Plans for a wind-energy development project a few miles southwest of Hays could bring a blast of change to Ellis County. If the proposed wind farm development is approved, about 135 turbines will be spread over about 11,000 square acres of land.
According to information obtained from the Ellis County Appraiser’s office, there are about 50 landowners in this area – 20 of whom have entered a memorandum of easement agreement to have wind turbines placed on their property.
The majority of these memorandum agreements, which are on public record in the Ellis County Register of Deeds office, were ratified in 2003 when Distributed Generation Systems Inc. first began making plans for an Ellis County wind farm.
In terms of the overall project, little has changed since then, said project manager Krista Gordon.
“I know a concern has been that we’re expanding the project, and I want to make it very clear that, except for a very limited parcel in the (Fort Hays State University) grounds, we’re not expanding the outer boundaries at this time,” Gordon said.
Landowners who have entered agreements can receive annual payments in one of two ways – either by a fixed percentage of the project’s gross revenue or a base per-megawatt payment.
Whichever of these two methods produces the highest payment at year’s end is how compensation is distributed, Gordon said.
While it’s unknown how much compensation each landowner will get, payment likely will be “a few thousand dollars per turbine, per year,” Gordon said.
Disgen sold interest in the Ellis County wind development to Competitive Power Ventures in 2006. Earlier plans for a local wind farm had been contingent on a bid to Kansas City Power & Light, an energy company that was in the market for 100 megawatts of renewable energy.
When KCPL opted to purchase their energy from Spearville’s wind development project in 2005, plans for the Ellis County wind farm never were eliminated, Gordon said.
“When the project was originally proposed in 2003, the land we signed up for is almost exactly the same as what we have today,” Gordon said. “The total footprints have always been the same with a target of 200 megawatts. The smallest plan circulated before was in response to specific market opportunities.”
However, there will be expansion in the project’s inner boundaries, which include limited sections from 220th Avenue to 170th Avenue, east to west. According to a map provided by Ellis County Public Works, the project’s southern boundary is Munjor Road and the project extends north to Fairground Road.
Since the March 28 Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, two more landowners have signed easement agreements, and a third has given verbal consent, Gordon said.
This brings the total of landowners who likely will have turbines on their property to 23.
Because these agreements still are being processed, they are not yet public record, and names won’t yet be released, she said.
Wind turbines will be located a minimum of 2,000 feet from personal residences, however, in most cases this distance is “substantially greater,” Gordon said.
Several landowners, however, have entered agreements that would allow turbines to be placed closer than 2,000 feet to their homes.
The project now is in the hands of Pennsylvania-based Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA, Ltd., a division of the Iberdrola parent company based in Madrid, Spain. The European giant purchased CPV’s wind power unit earlier this month.
The proposed wind farm would be designed to generate up to 200 megawatts of renewable energy; however, the amount of energy produced depends on how many megawatts are sold. Before selling to Iberdrola, CPV filed a bid with Westar, an energy company in the market for up to 500 megawatts of wind energy, and is waiting to hear back.
KCP&L also is back in the market. The company hopes to add a minimum of 100 megawatts of wind energy in 2008, and a maximum of an additional 300 megawatts by 2012, according to the company’s Web site.
Iberdrola is reviewing this request for proposal internally, Gordon said.
If all 200 megawatts are produced, it’s likely the company will provide Ellis County with a $600,000 annual stipend, which will benefit the county’s general fund. The company also will fund road maintenance issues, Gordon said at the March 28 Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing.
If not all 200 megawatts are produced, however, the annual stipend will be less than $600,000. For example, if 100 megawatts are sold, the county’s reimbursement will be $300,000. This was the plan for the 2005 proposal, Gordon said.
“The rationale of donation to the county for this project has always been about the same,” Gordon said. “We’re making it consistent with other wind projects installed in Kansas.”
The prospect of more than 130 wind turbines moving into a location near Hays has not been well-received by all. A group of about 80 Ellis County families, many of whom live near the project area, have been organizing opposition since the end of March.
This group of residents, now organized as the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, will host a presentation at 7 p.m. May 2 at Fox Pavilion, 1202 Main.
This presentation will address up to 16 issues, including a variety of health and economic issues, said John Schmeidler, co-chairman of the organization.
“Most of it’s going to hit not on wind energy or wind farms, but this is a bad place for it,” Schmeidler said. “We have one of the biggest cities in western Kansas within a few miles of the project area.”
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how close it’s going to be,” he said.
Another environmental group, Fort Hays State University’s Student Environmental Organization, has taken an opposite stance. This organization of about 25 undergraduate and graduate students also is hoping to prepare a public project, but this one would be a statement of support.
“Compared to many other types of energy generation, wind energy has a minimal environmental impact,” said Lance Rack, president of the group. “And while opponents have every right to be concerned about possible impacts on the land and wildlife, research has shown any effect will likely be small.”
It’s possible that an additional three or four turbines will be located on Fort Hays State University property. Because the land is state-owned, countywide zoning does not apply.
“I do think it’s an excellent idea and this way FHSU can, in the future, integrate this with classroom curriculum,” Rack said. “It’s another opportunity for Fort Hays, and an opportunity that a lot of other universities don’t really have.”
FHSU owns property extending south and west of the main campus, most of which is used for agricultural research facilities. The wind equipment likely would be located at the southern-most portion of this property, said FHSU President Edward H. Hammond.
“We would be very interested in augmenting our generation capability with wind energy power,” Hammond said.
This would be economically beneficial for the campus; electricity costs are charged by peak-load billing.
Payment rates are based on the maximum amount of energy the campus uses in any 15-minute period in August or September, which are the two months requiring the most electricity for air conditioning, Hammond said.
“If we can keep those peaks low, it reduces what we pay for electricity throughout the year,” he said. “To do that, we have what we call peak-shaving strategies, and one of the strategies is to generate power.”
FHSU has invested in two large diesel power generators, which are used at the beginning of every fall to help keep costs down.
Campus officials also have considered purchasing three wind turbines of their own to reduce the amount of energy purchased from Midwest Energy. However, as a state agency, FHSU wouldn’t be eligible for most of the wind energy tax benefits.
“We looked at just building three generators and running it ourselves,” Hammond said. “Given what we are paying per kilowatt hour, it didn’t work, it wasn’t financially advantageous. That’s why we haven’t done a three-windmill field ourselves.”
So when FHSU was approached with the idea of a partnership with Disgen/CPV/Iberdrola, officials were happy to oblige. There have been discussions, but not much headway has been made so far regarding these negotiations, Hammond said.
No papers have been signed, but the university has expressed a willingness to enter legal proceedings when the time comes, he said.
“That’s why we’re interested in the project – from the standpoint that it could provide us with inexpensive electrical power,” Hammond said.
By Kaley Lyon
Hays Daily News
24 April 2007
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