Robert “Doc” Kinkead said he had all but forgotten about his agreement to lease some of his nearly 400 acres of land in northern Boone County for a potential wind farm until he got the first check for it.

“We took the contract to a lawyer to get it looked over, doing what he called due diligence and all that,” he said. “The next thing I heard was a year later, we got this little dividend check and it was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I forgot about that,’ so that was great. And that’s about all our contact’s been.”

E.ON Climate & Renewables originally proposed building a wind farm in northern Boone County in 2019, sparking debate among landowners and leading the county Planning and Zoning Commission to begin discussing how to regulate wind farms. Since then, E.ON has transferred its wind assets to RWE Renewables, a German company focused on sustainable energy.

The change meant little for landowners.

RWE Communications Manager Matt Tulis said in an email RWE plans to continue working toward the wind farm and thus far has leased more than 12,000 acres in the Harrisburg area. Tulis said he didn’t have any more information about the project.

Meanwhile, Boone County still lacks specific rules for wind farms or turbines. The Planning and Zoning Commission had been holding regular meetings discussing potential regulations, but these were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, Resource Management Director Bill Florea said.

Florea said the commission likely won’t revisit these regulations until early next year. It still needs to finish drafting the rules and hold public hearings before presenting the regulations to the Boone County Commission.

When the planning commission last discussed wind farms, it had proposed a two-step process. A company would first need to apply for an overlay district for the areas it wanted to build in, then obtain conditional use permits for each individual structure, Florea said.

Overlay districts modify a property’s zoning to allow new uses and apply new rules without completely rezoning the district. A conditional use permit can be granted by the County Commission if a property owner shows that a development or land use won’t have a negative impact on surrounding properties or the enjoyment of the people living nearby.

Requiring RWE and property owners to get conditional use permits for each turbine could potentially cause backups depending on exactly how many turbines RWE decided to build, Florea said, especially since each permit must go through the Planning and Zoning Commission, which only meets once a month.

In the meantime, RWE could technically apply to rezone the land it has leased from agricultural to light industrial use. Florea said that would put more of a burden on RWE to get public input from local landowners than waiting for the county to develop rules.

Since there’s no specific language in Boone County ordinances about wind turbines, he added, qualifying them as light industrial would be a “judgment call” based on similar land uses in that category. RWE could appeal that decision, but Florea said the nature of the turbines put them under either light or heavy industrial use, and an appeal would take time.

RWE has time. Tulis said in 2019, before E.ON transfered its renewable energy assets to RWE, that the company would need one or two years of meteorological data from the area before deciding if it merits a wind power project, according to previous Missourian reporting. It will also need enough contiguous landowners to sign on, and it needs customers to buy any power it eventually generates.

Local landowner Brent Voorheis, who let E.ON erect a meteorological tower on his property, said RWE representatives told him they were still monitoring the tower, although they stopped traveling due to the virus.

Citizens opposed continue to post in a Facebook group their concerns about safety, scenery and living conditions. They worry wind turbines will be loud and unsightly, harm wildlife and create the phenomenon known as “shadow flickering,” which is when the blades of a wind turbine intermittently block out the sun. Some residents near wind farms elsewhere have said the flickering causes headaches, dizziness and nausea, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Opponents also argue that wind farms are built using non-sustainable methods and don’t produce enough energy to constitute the amount they waste in construction.

On the other hand, those like Kinkead see the benefits of wind power as a cleaner form of energy. Plus, there’s the added bonus of the checks landowners who agree to lease their land receive. Although Kinkead said he preferred not to disclose the exact amount he got, he said it was a helpful income boost.

For Kinkead, though, the decision to sign on was less about the money and more about doing whatever he could to help generations to come.

“Not so much our children, but our grandchildren are really into the green revolution and global warming and the changes and all that sort of thing,” he said. “And I guess the biggest thing was thinking: ‘What am I going to tell my grandkids,’ when, if we don’t do anything and things get as bad as they possibly could, they look at me and say, ‘Granddad, why didn’t you do something?’

“Well, this is part of that something.”

  • Public life reporter, fall 2020. Studying print and digital news journalism. Reach me at skylarlaird@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at swaffords@missouri.edu or at 573-884-5366.

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