By Anne Hassler Heidel, News-Ledger
McPHERSON-Landowners in the Delmore and Bonnaville townships thought the possibility of a commercial wind farm had been put to rest following a moratorium put in place by the McPherson County Commission in 2005. The moratorium prevented the acceptance of new conditional use permits for commercial wind energy projects (CWEPs) in the county.
CWEPs have long been a divisive issue in rural parts of McPherson County. When the county commission decided to lift the moratorium in October of 2017, landowners who previously opposed turbines say they were unaware CWEPs were back on the table.
Conflict of Interest?
There are currently three companies that have pursued land lease agreements for CWEPs in McPherson County – EDF Renewable Development; NextEra Energy; and Tradewind Energy, Inc.
Commissioner Keith Becker, who owns land leased to CWEP developer NextEra Energy, voted to approve lifting the moratorium in 2017, raising questions of a potential conflict of interest from CWEP opponents. Becker also voted in favor of a special use permit on Dec. 11, 2017 for the Diamond Vista Wind Energy Project, which was originally developed by Tradewind Energy which sold to Enel Green Power North America, Inc.
On Feb. 3 2017, H. Keith and Esther Becker Family trust signed leases on five parcels of land with NextEra Energy Resources, LLC. These five parcels involve acreage just shy of 500 acres. Other landowners approached by CWEP lease agents were offered $15/acre for access to the land once developed and $5/acre pending further development, according to a representative from NEXUS Energy Solutions, the leasing agent for EDF Renewable Energy. If wind turbines are built, landowners will receive stipends depending on the amount of wind energy produced.
State statute 74-4301a that deals with governmental ethics, states receipt of $2,000 by an elected official or their spouse in the prior 12 months leading up to an action voted upon by a governing body to be a conflict of interest. Becker stated if action involving NextEra should come before the commission, he would abstain voting. He did not answer questions about whether he received compensation from NextEra when he signed the leases in Feb. 2017, eight months prior to the vote to lift the moratorium and 10 months prior to voting on the special use permits for Diamond Vista – Tradewinds.
Becker said the developer he has signed a lease with, NextEra, “at this time has shown no interest in locating here.”
The county commission took action Monday to put another moratorium into effect for acceptance of special use permits for CWEPs. The new moratorium would be in place until the county’s 911 emergency communication system upgrade is completed, possibly by March 2020.