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To address future energy needs, BPU reaches for the sky  

While green may have been a prominent color of the past holiday season, it’s also a color the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities is interested in for the future.

In a work session prior to the regular meeting of the BPU Board of Directors Wednesday, the board heard about the specifics of a new contract signed by General Manager Don Gray committing to buy 25 megawatts of wind power capacity from TradeWind Energy,LLC, a Lenexa, Kan.-based wind farm developer.

“We are excited about adding this renewable source of energy to our generating mix – it is important for our future,” Gray said in an e-mail about the contract. “We strive for a balance in our energy development, and we’re proud that Kansas wind power will be part of that mix.”

The 20-year contract stipulates that the BPU purchase 25 megawatts of capacity from the wind farm. Both the BPU and Tradewind Energy declined to say specifically how much one megawatt hour would cost, but they did estimate a price near $45 per megawatt hour. The price is fixed for the duration of the contract.

By comparison, BPU’s two conventional power plants, Nearman Creek Power Station and Quindaro Power Station, have a combined capacity of 631 megawatts.

“This contract is a hedge against higher fuel prices in the future,” BPU’s Blake Elliot said. “We think this will save our ratepayers more than $3 million during the next 10 years.”

The power will come from the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, located about 20 miles west of Salina, Kan. The farm will generate 250 megawatts of power from 139 wind turbines spread out over 20,000 acres, and will be visible from Interstate 70.

“We believe that the BPU is going to be a part of one of the best wind sites in Kansas,” TradeWind Energy senior vice president of corporate development Frank Costanza told board members Wednesday night. “We looked at more than 25 sites across the state, and are confident that the Smoky Hills area offers some of the best topography for wind generation.”

The Smoky Hills wind farm will be the fifth wind farm in operation in Kansas. Costanza says the company plans to begin work on the site in the third quarter of this year, with plans to make the energy commercially available sometime in the last quarter of 2007.

“I wouldn’t be talking to you about this type of wind project five years ago,” Costanza told the board. “However, the economies of scale involved for wind generation now make it cost effective for this type of development.”

According to 2006 data provided by the American Wind Energy Association, wind power’s capacity of 10,500 megawatts represents just 1 percent of the 900,000 megawatts total power generating capacity in the United States. The AWEA shows that Kansas produces 364 megawatts. The Smoky Hills wind farm, at 250 megawatts, will be the largest in the state.

A 2002 study by the Public Interest Research Group estimated that Kansas has more wind energy potential than any other state, and if fully tapped, could provide nearly a third of all electricity needs in the United States.

“In general, as you move from west to east across the United States, the quality of the wind greatly decreases,” Costanza said.

While the Smoky Hills wind farm isn’t in the far western reaches of Kansas, it’s far enough out to capture the wind, but close enough to the two initial customers of the project, BPU and Sunflower Energy, that transmission of the power remains relatively cheap.

Recent spikes in the costs of fuel used by utility companies has allowed for renewed interest in wind energy. Data from Tradewind shows the cost of delivered coal power runs at $50 per megawatt hour, while the cost of delivering Midwest wind power can range between $45 and $60 per megawatt hour.

A number of states have passed regulations regarding alternative energy sources, including Maine, which requires that 30 percent of power in the state comes from renewable sources. Twenty-two other states have passed similar laws, but Kansas remains without such a quota.

By Sam Hartle, Kansan Staff Writer

kansascitykansan.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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