Sep. 28—Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle will publish over the next several weeks that will address the pros and cons, the opposition and support for the wind turbine project. Anyone who would like to contribute their thoughts are invited to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The prospect of a 95-square mile wind farm going up in the southeast portion of Dickinson County has caused a rift among neighbors and families.
Some see the Hope Ridge Wind Project as a chance to secure the future of their family farms. Others fear a litany of perceived problems. Opponents of the project speak of health hazards, decreasing property values, and the potential for a host of issues pertaining to farming and infrastructure. Meanwhile, supporters say the claims, which have been repeated across the country and copied and pasted into talking point memos, are exaggerated or not backed by evidence.
Hope Ridge is a wind turbine project of Enel Green Energy, which is headquartered in Italy. Enel and its subsidiaries produce and distribute electricity and gas to about 67 million customers in 31 countries across North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe, including at 68 sites in the United States.
The company's foreign ownership is a point of contention for some people.
"I have many reasons (to oppose the turbines), but I think the most important reason for me is the fact I feel like we are losing our freedoms," said Dickinson County resident Sherry Johnson. "I feel like this is a move from the present agenda of our government to move into what I would call getting rid of agriculture, fossil fuels, and moving into the green deal and getting rid of what we know is freedom. Foreign companies leasing our ground, and we losing control and freedom. We are giving control of our ground to outside countries. Who are not having us and our best interest in mind."
Enel would not be the only foreign energy company with leased land in Kansas and Dickinson County. The Canadian-owned Keystone pipeline runs the full length of Kansas north to south and right through Dickinson County. Keystone's December 2022 oil spill in Washington County was the largest in the systems history according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.
Had it not been for the Keystone pipeline, the wind turbine project may never have come about, said David Mueller, Marion County Commissioner and former liaison between Enel and landowners when the Diamon Vista Wind Farm was constructed in 2018.
"Keystone pipeline was put in about 12 years ago," Mueller said "There's a large pumping station just east of Hope, and Evergy put in a huge transmission line to power that pumping station. When that substation went into place, we became a viable location for a wind farm. Up to that point we had the wind capacity but we didn't have a place to plug in within a reasonable distance. (The transmission line) is a factor that made Diamond Vista and Hope Ridge even possible. Without that substation it probably wouldn't have happened."
Diamond Vista is a 95-turbine wind farm in Marion County, which stretches over 55,000 acres. Mueller said Enel started looking at the project in 2016 and began leasing land in 2017. Construction started in March 2018 and Diamond Vista was operational in November of that year.
Enel announced late last year it was looking at the prospect of Hope Ridge. However, there are several steps the company needs to take before the first truck rolls into the area.
Part of that process is to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration the location of the planned turbines.
"The FAA notifies a handful of agencies, including the Department of Defense, which has identified a low flying route that the National Guard uses for training," said Jon Beck, development manager for the Hope Ridge Wind Project. "We are currently coordinating with the DoD to fully understand their needs and adjust our project border accordingly."
One of the final steps will be to secure a conditional use permit (CUP) from Dickinson County Commissioners. Beck said they are hoping to submit a CUP for review sometime in the second quarter of 2024 and hope to get it finalized in the third quarter.
"From there, most likely, we're going to start some site work in late 2025," Beck said. "The majority of the work is going to happen in 2026. That's also when plan on finishing."
County commissioners have routinely listened to comments for and against the project at their weekly meetings as well as through personal contact and emails from constituents.
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