Dr. Lee Allison, director of the science and energy policy office for Governor Kathleen Sebelius, presented information on a topic that is circulating much controversy these days in McPherson County -- wind energy.
McPherson County commissioners approved on Nov. 8 amendments to zoning regulations pertaining to the sighting of a commercial wind farm in the county. and commissioners discussed at Tuesday’s meeting the possibility of lifting the moratorium on allowance of a company to apply for a conditional use permit for the purposes of constructing a commercial wind farm in northeast McPherson County.
Allison’s presentation was sponsored by the McPherson County Farm Bureau and was held Tuesday night at the Lindsborg Safety Center.
“One of our goals in Farm Bureau is to help all in our community understand the issues which impact farmers and ranchers,” said Greg Goering, president of the McPherson County Farm Bureau.
Allison opened his presentation with information about the damage done by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coasts, specifically to the key oil refineries located in that region. He told those in attendance that most of the state’s coal has to be imported, and that five new coal-fired power plants have been proposed for construction in the state of Kansas.
“There are people concerned about the air pollution and health concerns associated with these power plants,” said Allison.
With demand for energy ever increasing, the cost of non-renewable energy sources increasing, the state of Kansas faces the reality of looking at propositions from non-renewable energy companies and renewable sources, of which wind energy is the most high-profile source, and the state also faces the question of whether to utilize its wind as a marketable natural resource and allow the development of wind farms.
Allison said that 14 wind farms have been proposed by different wind energy companies across the state of Kansas. To date one wind farm, located in Montezuma, is producing wind energy and a second wind farm located in Butler County is about to reach completion. Half of the proposals for future wind farms in the state involved land in the Flint Hills.
Allison said that the environmental benefits of pursuing wind energy are that this energy does not require massive amounts of water resources to generate; wind energy is renewable, and “clean and green.”
Allison then discussed why the Flint Hills area is so attractive to wind energy companies seeking to develop wind energy in this region, which is home to some of the nation’s only intact Tallgrass Prairie. The Flint Hills area is touted as one of the best wind-quality areas in the state of Kansas, which as a state ranks anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 in wind energy potential in the United States. The ever-important transmission lines needed for a large commercial wind energy operation are also available in the Flint Hills area.
“Only three percent of the nation’s Tallgrass Prairie remains and of that, 95 percent is located in Kansas,” said Allison.
Northeast McPherson County contains a large area of 50 to 90 percent untilled prairie. The Flint Hills contains areas that are 90 percent or greater untilled, making that the top priority in tallgrass prairie conservation. Allison commented that the area in northeast McPherson County with 50 to 90 percent untilled prairie is a significant ecological area.
Allison said that as part of the Governor’s Wind and Prairie Policy, $800,000 in conservation easements was requested, but voted down by the legislature. These funds would be used to protect areas of untilled prairie and give ranchers who own that type of land a financial incentive to keep the tallgrass prairie land intact and undeveloped.
Allison said that Fermata Company compiled a report on a Wind Power Compromise and suggested that wind towers be located, “Where you have existing cell towers and other communications, where you have transmission lines, where you already have industrial installations, where there are other types of development that are already in place.”
Allison described areas in the Fermata report where wind farms should not be located as “near national parks, state parks, national forests and grasslands, heritage areas, along scenic byways and adjacent to or in untilled tallgrass prairie.”
“They see that as a huge resource the state needs to develop and that having these large projects out there may be detrimental to that,” said Allison.
Allison introduced the concept of community wind, which he said he has been working with Farm Bureau on, and which John Deere is also enthusiastic in developing.
The basic differences between a commercial wind farm in which an outside company is the investor, a community ownership model involves fewer turbines per cluster, typically less than 20 megawatts,
“They are dispersed, they are spread around, you have local ownership and under federal rules it is very easy to connect, projects less than 20 megawatts and can almost always connect into the grid,” said Allison.
He added that large transmission lines are not needed for the smaller-megawatt, community-based wind farms.
“John Deere has gotten into it and they have created a new wind energy division. They are building a project right now in Texas and one in Minnesota and they looked at Kansas and said Kansas ought to be the core of their community-wind strategy,” he said.
Allison said there are six types of financial models with reports on this type of community ownership wind farm strategy and more information can be obtained at the web site .
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