Many see a plan for large wind turbines along Interstate 70 in Lincoln and Ellsworth counties as an environmental disaster in the making.
Richard Plinsky, a Lincoln County farmer-rancher who has leased some of his ground to a Kansas City-based company for the multimillion-dollar project, is not one of them.
“I can’t even think of one downside to it,” Plinsky said of a plan by TradeWind Energy to erect dozens of 360-foot-tall turbines to generate electricity.
But opponents of the project can find plenty wrong with the plan, starting with ruined scenery and the potential that delicate native prairie will be harmed.
“They are just wildcatters who are going to rape this environment out here,” said farmer-rancher Stephen Donley. “We’re getting drug through the mud.”
TradeWind has a goal of building enough towers to produce 250 megawatts of power, or enough to supply 120,000 Kansas homes. Fifty-six towers, each capable of producing 1.8 megawatts of power – or 100.8 total megawatts – are to start going up by August along the north side of Interstate 70 in Lincoln County.
The project, four years in the making, got a boost late last year when Hays-based Sunflower Electric agreed to purchase 50.4 megawatts of power from the wind farm. The Kansas City Board of Public Utilities is buying 25 megawatts.
Plinsky is among 100 landowners who have leased land to TradeWind. He sees his participation in the project as a way to diversify his portfolio and provide a revenue stream even when crops and livestock aren’t making any money.
“It’s like having multiple oil wells,” he said.
TradeWind president Rob Freeman wouldn’t say how much landowners will be paid to allow the turbines on their property, but noted that the range is $2,000 to $10,000 per megawatt, per year, for 20 years.
“Kansas projects are generally toward the low middle of that range,” he said.
The company has offered Lincoln County about $2 million and Ellsworth County $1 million in payments in lieu of taxes for the next 10 years.
Virgil Huseman, an Ellsworth County farmer-rancher, said that’s a “mere pittance” compared with what the properties would produce if the wind farms were not tax exempt.
While Huseman agrees with Donley about the potential for environmental harm, he’s also worried about the visual impact of the project.
The turbines, he said, could cast annoying shadows, produce a “strobe effect” from the blades and the sun, be noisy and not live up to expectations that they are an environmentally friendly way to produce energy.
Huseman also argues that wind energy is not reliable.
“The reason is that the wind is not constant,” he said. “It’s very unpredictable, and because of that, it’s difficult to manage from the utility’s point of view.”
But Plinsky thinks that’s a bunch of baloney. He said he has studied the issues and has decided that the wind farm is good for landowners and communities.
As for those in Ellsworth County who are worried about the appearance of the turbines, he suggested they keep their eyes turned to the south of the interstate, where there are no immediate plans for the machines.
“Put your visor down so you don’t have to look at them,” Plinsky said. “Better yet, stay off the highway so I don’t have to contend with the traffic while I’m taking my checks to the bank.”
Freeman said TradeWind’s site is “possibly the most windy locale in the state,” adding that it also is near transmission lines to carry the electricity.
He said there has been talk of building a visitors center near the wind farm to attract tourism dollars.
“If some people find them ugly, I guess that’s a downside,” Plinsky said. “But there are a lot of people like myself who think they’re awfully good looking.”
Information from: The Salina Journal, http://www.saljournal.com
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