Sedgwick County bans wind farms, restricts commercial solar

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FILE – This May 6, 2013 file photo shows a wind turbine farm owned by PacifiCorp near Glenrock, Wyo. Bigger, more efficient equipment will allow a western U.S. electric utility to redevelop an aging Wyoming wind farm with far fewer turbines while generating the same amount of power. Portland, Oregon-based PacifiCorp plans to replace 68 wind turbines at the Foote Creek I wind farm with 13 turbines over the next year. (AP Photo/Matt Young)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Large-scale wind power developments would not be allowed and commercial solar installations would be restricted in Sedgwick County under a proposal approved Wednesday by the county commission.

The Sedgwick County Commission made the decision to protect aviation interests after planner Dave Yearout told commissioners that large windmills can affect airport and flight operations within a 5-mile (8.05-kilometer) radius, The Wichita Eagle reported.

A map showing a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius drawn around every airport and private landing strip in the county left only four small areas that would not be affected by a wind farm: in the extreme southwest, northwest and northeast corners of the county, and a small strip of land south of Clearwater.

Yearout told The Associated Press that a large number of aviation facilities in the county, coupled with increasing non-agricultural development in rural areas and training activities at McConnell Air Force Base, makes large scale wind farms incompatible with the county’s needs.

He said studies show that wind facilities can cause dangerous atmospheric conditions that radiate out by 5 miles (8.05 kilometers) and could affect small aircraft that use landing strips across the county. Airport hazard maps currently restrict windmill heights to 300 feet (90 meters) but some bigger windmills can be 550 feet (170 meters) tall, he said.

The commissioners also approved more requirements for permits for large-scale solar operations. The regulations do not impact installations of small solar energy systems on homes or businesses, or privately owned windmills up to 45 feet (13.7 meters) tall.

Large solar installations can produce glare and glint that can affect the ability of pilots to fly at certain times and in certain places, Yearout said.

“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.

The regulations will soon be presented to the Wichita City Council for final approval. The county shares planning responsibilities with the city.

The regulations were proposed after nearly nine months of studies, Yearout said, and they give the county “everything we need in our toolbox for adequate insight to regulate big energy generation facilities.”

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