Turbines are starting to spin in southeast Butler County, Kansas. Source: El Dorado Times
Wind farm project nears completion
By STEVE SMITH Times Staff Writer
BEAUMONT – Turbines are starting to spin in southeast Butler County as a commercial wind energy wind farm project approaches the point at which electricity will begin to be sent out into its power grid destination.
A total of 100 turbines are involved in the Elk River Wind Farm LLC project, located just south of Beaumont.
John Hueston, site manager for PPM Energy of Portland, Ore., a ScottishPower company and now owner of the wind farm, said all 100 of the wind turbines are now in place and fully equipped with nacelles and turbine blades.
He said the process now being gone through at Elk River involves getting the wind turbines on line and commissioned.
As of late last Friday afternoon, he said, 54 of the towers had been commissioned, with four teams at work getting them commissioned at the rate of about three or four a day.
By mid-November, he said, it is expected all 100 towers will have been commissioned.
Hueston said the commissioning process involves setting up computers in each of the wind turbines so that each one is tied into the wind farm network.
There are also pre-electrical energization checks now taking place, he said, and safety functions in each tower – such as over-speed trips and electrical interface safety features which will prevent the turbines from damaging any internal components – are also being examined.
Once all of the turbines have been fully commissioned, Hueston said, Elk River will be at a point at which electricity can be sent from the turbines to a step-up transformer located in an on-site substation Elk River built for the project at the south end of the wind farm.
Elk River built the substation, he said, and then turned it over to Westar Energy.
From the substation, Hueston said, electricity will be sent out into a power grid to serve customers of Empire Electric of Joplin, Mo., with whom Elk River has signed a power purchase agreement.
Empire Electric provides power to customers in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, as well as in the southeast corner of Kansas right across from the Kansas-Missouri border.
It was in January of 2003 that the Butler County Commission gave its approval to the conditional use permit for the Elk River project.
While he voted for the Elk River project, said commission chairman Mike Wheeler of El Dorado, he is not generally in favor of locating wind farms in Butler County and in the Flinthills.
“This seemed like the right place, the right time and the right site,” he said, “and I think we picked a good company to go with.”
Commissioners have made several inspection trips to the wind farm, Wheeler said.
The fact that the project was started in mid-May of this year and is now scheduled to be completed in mid-November “speaks well of them,” he remarked of Elk River.
“We’ve been all over the job site,” he said, “and it’s a well-organized and well-run operation.
“Driving around the job site,” he said, “you can tell everything is clean, neat and well organized.
“It’s a first-class project.”
With only one other wind farm now operating in Kansas (near Montezuma in Gray County) and others in the drawing board stage, Wheeler said Butler County officials believe this county is in a position to be a leader in Kansas in terms of wind farm development.
The guidelines Butler commissioners have established for wind farms are “very strict and stringent,” he said, “and we believe other counties are looking to our guidelines for any future siting of projects.”
He added “I think the guidelines we’ve established are so strict” that Elk River “could very well be the only wind farm project we ever see in Butler County.”
Wheeler said Elk River has been “head and shoulders above” all the other companies that have made proposals to establish wind farms in Butler County.
When commissioners voted on the Elk River project, he said, “we made a decision on the right people to be involved with.”
“They’ve done everything they ever said they were going to do,” he said, “and have put up a first-class project.”
Wheeler said Elk River has “worked with the county very well,” adding while it might seem to some the county’s guidelines are onerous they (Elk River) have taken them in stride, gone down the road and worked with the county.
“They’ve fulfilled all the guidelines and requirements I’m aware of.”
Fears for the Flint Hills
“It’s the last of an ecosystem,” says Larry Patton. “Why would we want to industrialize an ecosystem?”
It has been estimated perhaps only about 3 percent of North America’s ancient Tallgrass Prairie remains intact.
Much of that territory is in the Kansas Flint Hills.
Patton, of rural El Dorado, is president of Protect the Flint Hills, an organization which has taken a stand against the Elk River project.
Patton said Protect the Flint Hills has an e-mail list of 200 to 300 people.
Protect the Flint Hills has the mission statement of expressing its concern regarding the impact of industrial wind development in the Kansas Flint Hills. “Our mission is to protect the wide-open spaces of the Flint Hills, the last significant expanse of tallgrass prairie on the continent,” according to the mission statement. “While we are in favor of renewable alternative energy,” the organization has stated, “we strongly oppose placing industrial wind energy complexes in the Flint Hills.
“The Flint Hills are not a renewable resource. They are a one-of-a-kind landscape.”
As an alternative, suggests Protect the Flint Hills, “we support siting wind turbines on land that has already been disturbed by farming or other development – land outside of the Flint Hills and outside the viewshed of the Flint Hills.”
“Commercial wind energy in the Flint Hills is opposed by a broad spectrum of community leaders, including ranchers, small business owners and conservationists,” Patton said, adding “wind power developments need to be placed in appropriate areas and kept out of inappropriate areas.
“The Kansas Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie is an endangered ecosystem and is obviously not an appropriate area for industrial wind energy development.”
Patton said the state has delegated the siting of industrial wind turbines to the counties.
“Some of the counties believe this is a federal issue,” he said. “The federal government has delegated the issue to the state.
“Federal tax incentives drive the development of commercial wind energy,” Patton said.
“Therefore it is appropriate there be federal siting requirements.
“If taxpayer money is going to help create the business,” he said, “then taxpayers should have a say in how that business impacts their communities.
“The Kansas Flint Hills are a treasure which must be preserved,” Patton said.
“Each year the number of people visiting the Flint Hills increases significantly as Kansans and out-of-state tourists recognize the beauty, uniqueness and value of the Flint Hills region.
“The Flint Hills are being threatened by industrialization,” Patton said.
“Wind energy developers from around the world hope to cash in on generous government tax credits,” he said, “by constructing hundreds of giant wind turbines throughout the Flint Hills (including along the Kansas Highway 177 Scenic Byway) that would tower 400 feet above the prairie.”
Patton said that comes “in spite of efforts by Gov. Sebelius to keep industrial wind turbines out of the Flint Hills region and in spite of position statements made by many nature-based organizations.”
Those, he said, include the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks; Kansas Natural Resources Council; Audubon of Kansas; Kansas Scenic Byways; National Wildlife Federation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Nature Conservancy; and the Wildlife Management Institute.
“Developers continue to target the endangered Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem for industrial wind energy production facilities,” Patton said.
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