Barton County Zoning Administrator Judy Goreham met with U.S. representatives from Chinese power company State Power Investment Corporation Thursday afternoon at the Barton County Courthouse who expressed interest in developing wind energy in northern Barton County. The message they received was Barton County is supportive of wind energy development, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the migratory activity at Cheyenne Bottoms and along the Central Flyway.
Because of the area’s proximity to Cheyenne Bottoms and the Central Flyway, and in the interest of maintaining complete transparency, Goreham invited County Clerk Donna Zimmerman, County Administrator Phil Hathcock and Barton County Commissioner Alicia Straub, as well as the Nature Conservancy and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to the meeting.
Susan Benz Callahan, secretary at the U.S. office of SPIC, provided some background about the company. It recently combined forces with China Power Investment Corporation to become State Power Investment Corporation. The company is now one of the five largest state-owned power companies in China, and is now turning it’s interest from the transfer of nuclear technology to the development of wind and solar energy in the United States. Barton County and the State of Kansas is where they are beginning their exploration, Callahan said.
Northern Barton County eyed
They expressed interest in the possibility of siting a wind farm in Beaver and Cleveland townships in the northeast corner of the county. They have not begun the leasing process, and the do not have a specific plan at this time.
“We have no preconceived notions,” SPIC North America Project Development Manager Gao Feng said. “The land will dictate the size and the viability of a project. Where we want to go and where we end up going may not be one and the same.”
Goreham in turn shared the county’s preparations to date in the event it should be approached by developers interested in wind energy. These date back to 2007.
Currently, those regulations provide for single-use wind turbines under 120-feet tall, but there are definitions that would apply to commercial or community wind farms and wind energy conversion systems of more than one wind turbine.
Callahan expressed both pleasure and surprise.
“Most counties are not as far along as Barton County with covenants and regulations in place,” she said.
Wetlands and Flyway important considerations
Jason Wagner, Manuel Torres and Zach Eddy, all with Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism weighed in with the state’s position that it supports the development of wind energy, but is also well aware of areas where environmental impacts are to be avoided. Developers should expect there to be a three-mile setback buffering any public lands.
The Central Flyway and its importance to the conservation of North American shorebirds, waterfowl and the survival of numerous species of birds and wildlife was discussed.
The Nature Conservancy representatives presented a map of Barton County to assist companies with siting their projects. (See map.)
They indicated the two townships of interest on the map. Both townships have are located at the outer zone of a 16-kilometer buffer zone that surrounds the zoning commission’s no-build and conditional use zone.
The Nature Conservancy, through discussions with KDWPT biologists, determined it to be appropriate in those areas where large birds like whooping cranes migrate through, because it takes them more time to rise to a height above the rotor sweep of wind turbine blades. On the outer edges of the county, rural areas is where development of wind energy would be recommended, they said.
“There’s a lot of area out there with good wind suitable for wind development in Kansas,” said Jim Hayes, a Nature Conservancy member.
Straub asked Feng and Callahan what drew them to Beaver and Cleveland townships. They said an initial study of wind patterns, the proximity to other wind developments and transmission lines, and discussions with cellular companies had piqued their interest.
Company holdings in China and Australia
Straub asked about the company’s projects in China. Callahan produced a company pamphlet and stated SPIC controlled 300 MW offshore and 11 GW onshore. They are also the top wind producer in Australia, she said.
Should they determine they want to move forward, Goreham outlined the process of gaining approval. They would need to identify the specific area of interest in an application to the zoning commission. Then, all residents within a 1,000-foot area around the site would be notified and a public hearing set.
After the hearing, the zoning commission would vote to approve the application. If approved, there would be a three-week public comment period before it would be voted on by the Barton County Commission. At that point, only a super-majority could vote it down.
The Nature Conservancy’s map of Barton County. Two boxes in the upper right-hand corner are Beaver and Cleveland townships. The light colored area in the center is the no-build zone around the Cheyenne Bottoms, and the small ring around it, and in south and west of Great Bend are the conditional permit areas determined by the Barton County Zoning Commission. The light colored ring that encompasses a major portion of the county around that is the 16 kilometer buffer zone the Nature Conservancy has determined appropriate for the protection of large bird species including the Whooping Crane. White and the darkest areas are rural, low risk areas where wind energy development would have the least impact on the Central Flyway and municipalities. Lighter polygons indicate incorporated communities and the airport.