Politics & Government

Sedgwick County bans wind farms, restricts commercial solar

Two sides of the debate over wind energy

An opponent of a wind farm in Reno County and a rancher from Ellsworth County who has 11 wind turbines on his property give their views on the growing renewable energy source.
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An opponent of a wind farm in Reno County and a rancher from Ellsworth County who has 11 wind turbines on his property give their views on the growing renewable energy source.

There won’t be any wind farms generating electricity in Sedgwick County.

The County Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to ban large-scale development of wind power countywide and to establish strict rules for commercial solar power installations.

Planner Dave Yearout told the commission that large windmills can affect airport operations for a five-mile radius.

He showed the commissioners a map with 10-mile wide circles drawn around every airport and private landing strip in the county.

Only four small areas were outside those circles: the extreme southwest, northwest and northeast corners of the county, plus a tiny strip of land immediately south of Clearwater.

On solar energy, any large-scale installations will have to go through a complicated permit process, including providing detailed information on the technology to be used, a glare-hazard analysis, a 35-foot limitation on height and Federal Aviation Administration approval within a 1-mile radius of any airport or landing strip.

“We do support wind and solar, but aviation is so important to the community that I think this is a good balance,” Commissioner Jim Howell said.

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The new limitations don’t generally prohibit home or business installations of small-scale solar energy systems, or privately owned windmills up to 45 feet tall, provided that regular zoning standards are met.

Because the city and county share planning responsibilities, the regulations will soon be presented to the Wichita City Council for final approval.

However, as a practical matter, there’s not enough undeveloped land in the city limits for a wind farm or large-scale solar energy plant anyway, commission chairman David Dennis said.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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