Can the wind be harnessed in Kentucky?

Bracken and Mason counties in Northeastern Kentucky (not far from Cincinnati, Ohio) could become home to Kentucky’s first wind farm. Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources is studying the location for a possible 100 MW wind farm. The company has meteorological towers at the site to measure the wind resource and will be undergoing a year-long environmental assessment.

This is great news for Kentucky, a state which could greatly benefit from energy diversification. Kentucky is at the top of the list in a new NRDC report detailing toxic air pollution from power plants.

Bracken and Mason counties have unemployment levels of 10%. If NextEra moves forward with a 100 MW wind farm, the overall value is projected at $180 million. Using estimates from the Jobs and Economic Development Index, an economic model developed by the National Renewable Energy Lab, the wind farm may generate over half a million dollars annually for the area in collected property taxes and the project would eventually need 8 full-time employees. During the construction phase, 68 workers will be needed onsite and the wind farm will also generate over 300 supply chain positions. Payments to the various landowners could come to approximately $300,000 per year, with the wind farm using only 2-5% of the land.

The community is debating the potential project. One particular issue has been whether to enforce a large setback distance from a wind turbine to neighboring property. One suggestion was a setback of 2 miles (10,560 ft). NextEra says that their typical setback is 1,400 ft.  Despite the large distance between the two proposed setbacks, the additional setback of 2 miles is not going to make a large difference for neighbors. Sound power levels are reduced to 38 decibels (well below common background sound) by NextEra’s setback distance. But noise may not be the real issue in a setback debate. Last winter in Minnesota, a large setback became a way to make a project impossible without directly creating a ban on wind energy.

A Mason County judge recently turned down a motion to halt landowners from signing contracts with NextEra, stating that the court did not have the legal right to interfere with a private business transaction.

Certainly the local community should have a say in what is built in their area. NextEra has promised the community that there will be public forums well before construction begins, should they decide to move forward with a project proposal and begin acquiring the appropriate permits. The community should ask NextEra to provide a viewshed, noise, and shadow flicker analysis so that they will know exactly what to expect at a responsible, but not excessive, setback. NextEra estimates no construction will begin before 2013.

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