LOCKWOOD, Mo. – For years, we’ve seen sprawling wind farms sprouting in western states like Kansas, Colorado, and California. Now, they’re becoming a common sight in parts of southwest Missouri.
Shaen Rooney, Project Manager at Liberty Utilities, said., “I have seen attitudes out here change quite a bit. Now that people have seen that it can be done.”
Liberty Utilities recently opened two large wind facilities covering parts of Dade, Lawrence, Barton, and Jasper counties.
Rooney said, “I think they [communities] see that this is a realistic use of agriculture. Perhaps they’ve got heirs that aren’t interested in farming. and this is a chance to make some income off land that wouldn’t be used in the future.
Most farming in these parts involved the soil. However, the newest cash crop is coming from the skies. Liberty Utilities’ Kings Point and North Fork Ridge facility includes nearly 140 turbines generating electricity. They also churn out money with tax revenue for counties and school districts and land lease payments for the farmers.
A lot of landowners signed up for the project, but Liberty only had so many turbines it needed to install. Those left out of the first windfall- may be getting a second chance.
FOX49 Investigates discovered BluEarth Renewables, a Canadian company, is planning another wind project near Lockwood called Buffalo Branch. It will be next to Liberty’s new Kings Point facility and include up to 65 more windmills filling the skies between here and Greenfield..
Grant Arnold, CEO of BlueEarth Renewables, said the proposed project is in the advanced development stage. He explained, “Dade County has a great wind resource, and we found a wonderful supportive community and so it fit the bill. We like it.” He added, “There is an obvious economic benefit to the landowners and to the community through property tax, but we also have community funds that we commit to the life of the project.”
Wayne West, a Lockwood resident, is one of many people hoping to host a windmill with the next project.
“I don’t even know if I’ll get one, to be honest with you. I am still excited about the project. He added, “If I do, it’d be great because the amount of money they pay on these is a life changer for people.
Another Lockwood resident, Erryl Schilling, said, “I wouldn’t be bothered by it all. You know, if you have a house real close to it, you might have a little bit of a complaint. But I also knew that most people out there [near the Kings Point project] thought, well, if my neighbor’s going to get them and I must look at them, why not sign up, too?”
Tax revenue from wind farms goes to counties and school districts. FOX49 Investigates found Lockwood’s public school district is already getting a total $250,000 per year just from the thirteen Liberty windmills in its district. The Buffalo Branch project would bring in a whole lot more.
Superintendent Clay Lasater said, “I’ve heard discussion about additional projects. And so if those projects put additional windmills within the bounds of our school district, we would benefit from those financially. And so as those happen, if there are more of them, then there would be some funds where maybe that goes above and beyond us just trying to maintain, you know, where we’re at from these current ones.”
BluEarth Renewables, like a lot of wind energy conglomerates, often tout job creation. FOX49 investigates learned projects like these can employ up to 200 during construction but most positions are workers from out of town- going from project to project across the country. BlueEarth says it would have approximately a dozen permanent employees on site after it opens.
Liberty tells us it employs 50 to 60 people at its farms in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas.
Landowners say they have learned a lot from Kings Point. The financial rewards are appealing. But they’re not looking forward to some of the potential drawbacks before the checks arrive.
West said, “There’s, there’s, there’s a lot of negatives and a lot of positives in the aspect of it. The biggest negative for me is going to be the fact that while they’re building here, there is the inconvenience of them building the large equipment is going to come in up and down the roads constantly. You’ll see some roads tore up, but then they’ll fix them back.”
Liberty’s Rooney explained, “I think construction was probably the peak of our complaints. And really most of people’s complaints had to do with the condition of the roads, obviously bringing in large components, sometimes having to close roads, temporarily impacted people’s lives. We did the best we could. We tried to coordinate with them. He added, “Once construction got wrapped up and our contractor got out here and completed the restoration work, uh, the number of complaints has gone down quite a bit.”
Neighbors like Erryl Schilling say it’s a short-term trade-off of a long-term payoff. He explained, “If you get one on your property, I know it’s going to be an inconvenience, but it’s still, I think, outweighed [by the profit] that some of the farmers will see out of it. I looked at it one way if I should get a tower, I think that keeps me in high equipment. You know, one year I can buy me a new mower.”
In part one of this story, we spoke with some residents who are bothered by the hundreds of red warning lights flashing at night on top of turbines at King’s Point.
Potential partners in the Buffalo Branch project have been told the lights on the proposed units will have new technology which will activate the warning lights only when planes are detected nearby.