KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Wind farm fight moves into Kansas courts

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RENO COUNTY, Kan. (KAKE) -

"The wind farm fight is far from over," Nick Egli said Sunday night.

Reno County landowners opposed to a wind farm are organizing again as the company takes its case to court.

It's a fight over who has the right to say yes or no to wind energy development in Reno County, a fight some thought was over this summer but now is dragging on into the state's courts.

This latest development in a story KAKE News Investigates first told you about last spring is once again pitting dozens of landowners who want the wind turbines against their neighbors, who don't.

Who wins could impact the future of wind energy in Kansas.

"We're hoping to gain support. both financially and just by word of mouth that this is not over," Egli said.

Twice on Sunday, the organization Reno County Citizens for a Better Life, held informational meetings for landowners who opposed the wind farm proposal.

Matt Amos is a U.S. veteran.  He says his main concern is how close the turbines would be to his home.

"The reason we picked that location is it was quiet. there wasn't lights. there wasn't noise," Amos said.

"I'm opposed personally for my airport and them encroaching... basically on my flight pattern," said Nick Egli.

Before Next Era began leasing land to build wind turbines, Egli was developing his land into a local aviation community, homes built around an air strip designed for private planes. It's something he can't do if the wind turbines get too close to his air strip.

Both Amos and Egli say property values are a major concern as well.

"We're starting to see that already," Egli said.  "There's properties for sale all over the place."

They thought their fight was over when the Reno County Commission voted down a proposed permit to allow NextEra Energy to build.  They'd gathered so many signatures on petitions, it forced the commission to require a unanimous vote to approve NextEra's request, but the final vote was three to one.  Now, NextEra has filed suit in court to get the petitions thrown out and that ruling overturned.

"It's kind of a David and Goliath scenario," Amos said.  "You know?  You've got just a bunch of citizens going up against a hundred million dollar company."

So now they're trying to raise money to pay for their own lawyers, even resorting to a GoFundMe page.

But they're not just fighting a company, they're also fighting dozens of their neighbors who want the wind farm.

"Anything that can help is...going to be very good 'cause it's really tough on the farmers right now," said David Ahrens.  

Ahrens is named in the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff alongside NextEra.  He and his neighbor, Gary Tonn, have both already signed contracts with the company.

"That might keep us afloat for a couple years because the farm prices are terrible," Ahrens said.

"We have wheat, soybeans and milo," his son Peter said.  "Wind is another crop we can harvest.  So why don't we harvest it?"

They say the concerns they've heard from those opposed to the wind farm don't match up with what they've heard talking to those already living with a wind farm.

"I went to the Newkirk wind farm in Oklahoma," Tonn said.  "And Newkirk itself is surrounded on three sides by the wind farm. And I talked to the farmers and individuals. And I heard nothing negative about them."

Ahrens said he had concerns about the contract NextEra first presented him with, including how close the turbines would be to his house.  NextEra took care of his concerns, removing the objectionable portions from the contract.  After that, he says, he was happy to sign.

The decision to deny NextEra a permit was the first time a county turned down a wind farm in Kansas.  Everything that happens from here on out is setting new precedent in Kansas.

On Sunday, both sides felt the law was on their side in this fight and see a win as a must have.

"For some farmers that are having hard times when times are good...this could be the end if they don't get them," Peter Ahrens said.

"We've won more battles than we ever hoped to," Egli said.  "It's encouraging but it's also depressing at the same time."

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