Wabaunsee County, Kansas, acted reasonably in determining aesthetics and ecological concerns justified banning commercial wind farms, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled. Following that decision, the Court is considering arguments such a ban constitutes an unconstitutional taking of property rights without compensation, and that the county’s decision to carve out an exemption for personal windmills improperly discriminates against interstate commerce.
Last Remaining Tallgrass
More than 90 percent of the nation’s tallgrass prairie, which once spanned vast stretches of the American Midwest, has been irreversibly lost to development. The Flint Hills region of east-central Kansas contains most of the nation’s remaining tallgrass prairie, and Wabaunsee County is home to most of the Flint Hills.
The wind power industry covets the Flint Hills for its consistently breezy conditions that can power wind turbines. Conservation groups and a majority of area residents, however, argue industrial wind turbines would harm the aesthetics and ecosystems of the dwindling tallgrass prairie.
Several Factors Supported Ban
Several factors, according to the Court, allowed Wabaunsee County to ban commercial wind farms. These factors include:
The Flint Hills area is considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America.
Wind farms could have a detrimental effect on the ecology of the region, affecting prairie chicken habitat, breeding grounds, nesting areas, feeding areas, and flight patterns.
Wind farms would not be in the best interest of the general welfare of the county as a whole based on aesthetics, size, and scope of the complexes needed for them and their placement on the ridge lines of the county, which make them objectionable and unsightly.
Wind farms would be detrimental to property values and opportunities for agricultural and nature-based tourism. The Flint Hills are unique in their ecology, heritage, and beauty, the court found.
Constitutional Issues Remain
Nevertheless, the Court ruled the ban may constitute an unconstitutional taking of private property rights without just compensation. Additionally, by simultaneously allowing landowners to erect windmills for personal power consumption, the ban may unlawfully discriminate against interstate commerce, the court stated.
The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to render a decision on this issue by early summer.
Anti-Green Wind Power
“Though stronger arguments against wind power may be made on economic grounds, the opposition to the Kansas wind farms on aesthetic grounds shows it is not smooth sailing for renewables like wind and solar energy,” Heartland Institute environmental writer Drew Thornley said. “While some communities may not mind the change in scenery, others won’t take so kindly to their open land being taken over by cement-and-wind turbines. A power plant of any kind is going to change the composition of the land on which it sits, but to produce the same amount of power, energy-dense power sources like nuclear and natural-gas-fired plants require much less land than a wind or solar farm.
“Thus, though land aesthetics are altered by all power sources, renewables like wind energy disrupt the land to a greater degree, on an equalized-power-output basis” Thornley added, “As is the case when comparing energy subsidies to power output, in the tradeoff between disrupting land and producing the energy that powers our lives, wind energy and other renewables simply don’t give us a the bang for our buck that conventional sources provide.”
National Center for Policy Analysis senior fellow Sterling Burnett says the court was right to consider the land-use issues.
“The Flint Hills region has unique characteristics and is the last representative area in the whole country of that type of prairie. To put wind mills there is to destroy the last part of the country with that type of prairie,” he said. “In addition, they take up a large amount of land. They become industrial areas and are no longer wild.”
Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.