The wind that races across the hills in Barber County could be generating electrical power in just over a year. Westar Energy, working with developers, has tentative plans to build three wind farms in Kansas including a 5,000-acre facility in Barber County.
The three wind farms will be the largest wind energy programs in the state.
While the facility will be in Barber County, the electricity will be sent out to Westar’s 670,000 customers, mostly in the eastern third of the state, and not affect Barber County residents, said Gina Penzig, Westar spokeswoman.
Some of the electricity may make its way to Pratt County. Ninnescah Electric Cooperative is part of KEPCO that has an energy agreement with Westar. Some of the electricity generated by the wind farms could make its way to KEPCO and ultimately to Ninnescah Electric.
The customers that do receive electricity will initially see a rate increase of $2 to $2.50 a month. That rate should go down during the following years of operation.
“In the long term we expect it (rate) to decline,” said Jim Ludwig, Westar executive vice president of public affairs and consumer services.
The three wind farms will help Westar push back a decision to build a coal fire facility by two or three years and that could allow for cleaner burning methods to develop.
“We believe it’s environmentally responsible,” Ludwig said.
Tentative agreements have been reached for three wind farms with a total value of $500 million. Westar has asked the Kansas Corporation Commission to expedite the rate request so construction can begin early in 2008.
The three wind farms will provide 300 megawatts of power, enough to supply electricity to 88,000 average homes, said Gina Penzig senior communications media representative with Westar Energy.
All three facilities should be on-line late 2008. They have an option to expand and add another 200 mega watts of power by 2010.
The three wind farms will be the Flat Ridge Wind Farm in Barber County northeast of Medicine Lodge, the Meridian Way Wind Farm in Cloud County southeast of Concordia and the Central Plains Wind Farm in Wichita County northeast of Leoti. Flat Ridge is a subsidiary of BP alternative Energy North America Inc.
The Flat Ridge Wind Farm is expected to produce 100 megawatts, enough to serve 30,000 homes. The turbines are over 260 feet tall and a single blade is 150 feet long.
Several owners are involved in the 5,000 acres and they remain the landowners. They receive a one-time payment or a royalty and are still be able to have cattle and fields around the turbines.
The Barber County site was chosen because of access to high voltage and high capacity transmission lines, positive feedback from the community and the wind conditions.
“We have some of the best wind sites in the nation,” Penzig said.
The windmills are also not going to cause a problem for ground nesting birds. Predator birds like to perch on the towers and attack ground nesting birds. Westar worked with nature conservancy to minimize any risk to the environment, Ludwig said.
The project is Westar’s largest wind energy program in Kansas. They had two experimental smaller units at the Jeffries Energy Center. This is their first big venture in environmentally friendly energy.
“This is the exciting for Westar. It’s the biggest step we’ve taken into renewable energy,” Ludwig said.
By Gale Rose
3 October 2007
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