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Huge project takes huge parts

The crane standing atop a hill across the Ellsworth County line north of Interstate 70 soared 315 feet into the air.

“In this part of the world, that’s a pretty good-sized piece of equipment,” said farmer and landowner Richard Plinsky.

Nearby stood two white tubes, one stacked on the other. These made up the bottom two sections of a four-section tower. When this and more than 50 other towers like it are operational, the Smoky Hills Wind Farm will go on-line, providing power to the Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Cooperative and the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities.

That is expected to happen by the end of the year.

“You’ve got a rare opportunity here,” Plinsky said recently as a charter bus with more than 40 tour participants inched its way along the new roads created for the wind farm.

On both sides of Kansas Highway 14, south of Lincoln, the hills are being marked by construction activity in the first phase of a project that involves 20 or more landowners and 10,000 acres of tilled land and pastures.

This day, Plinsky – who will have 15 of the wind turbines on his land when the project is done – talked about the wind farm and answered questions from his audience, many of them Lincoln High School alumni who had returned here for their annual reunion.
The tour was organized by Marilyn Helmer of Village Lines, a Lincoln gift store.

The wind farm is being developed by TradeWind Energy of Lenexa under the ownership of Enel North America, Inc., a subsidiary of Enel, SpA, the third largest utility in the world.

Plans for the project go back four years.

“It’s been a time on the drawing board, and it’s falling into place real well,” Plinsky said.

From their makeshift headquarters on the east side of Highway 14, electricians, engineers, construction employees and others work from mobile offices.

The components they are putting together to make the wind turbines are huge. For instance, each turbine will have three blades, each one 132 feet in length.

The towers, manufactured in Denmark, Canada and China, are shipped to the Gulf of Mexico, where they are loaded on rail cars and transported to Kanopolis, 10 miles to the south of the construction site.

Other information shared by Plinsky during the tour:

• Ten special “low-boy trucks” were needed – just to deliver the crane, which will hoist the tower components, including the nacelle or generation head, which holds the hub for the three blades.

• The turbines will produce 1.8 megawatts of energy, making them the largest producers in Kansas. The wind turbines at Spearville and Elk River, east of Wichita, are 1.5 megawatts.

• The cost of a finished turbine is between $3.5 and $4 million.

• Each base takes 500 cubic yards of concrete, which is poured eight to 10 feet into the ground.

• Each tower has 77,000 pounds of reinforcement bar in the concrete. The towers stand 260 feet tall.

“It was such a large project that there was no way anybody local could handle it,” Plinsky said.

However, Ellsworth Ready Mix, a Lincoln stone company and other local firms have provided materials. Local residents also were hired to operate machinery and do other jobs.

• When construction started, about 140,000 gallons of water were needed daily to pour the concrete and build the roads. The water is provided by the Ellsworth-based Post Rock Rural Water District, which has a treatment plant at Kanopolis Reservoir. Plinsky said large amounts of water are still required to control the dust on the roads.

• The project includes 23 miles of road. After the turbines are operational, much of the land disturbed by the construction will be reseeded to grass.

• The site was chosen because of its proximity to a high voltage line, its wind capacity and willing landowners.

As the bus moved slowly through the construction site, Plinsky pointed to an abandoned farmhouse. In the early 1900s, he said, owner George Bettenbrock lighted his house using a wind charger to feed a 32-volt battery. This was in the days before the federal Rural Electrification Administration powered the countryside.

“It’s just truly remarkable to know what he did and what we’re doing now,” Plinsky said.

By Linda Mowery-Denning

Ellsworth County Independent/Reporter

9 October 2007