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Wichita proposed as wind power hub  

Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson is laying out an ambitious agenda for Kansas to export thousands of megawatts of wind power to southeastern states and make Wichita a center for manufacturing windmills.

Parkinson outlined his proposals last week to the state Wind Working Group, a commission made up of about 40 government and utility officials and alternative-energy advocates.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed the group to work through the details of implementing her goal of getting 10 percent of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020.

Parkinson, the group’s chairman, said he selected Wichita as the site for the group’s first meeting last Friday because of the city’s potential to become a manufacturing hub for the burgeoning U.S. wind power industry.

“I think this is a perfect place for wind turbine manufacturing,” he said. “If you can build airplanes, you can build turbines.”

The idea of building windmills is an attractive one, even though the area is undergoing one of its periodic shortages of trained workers for the aircraft industry, said Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh.

“It would take some planning and we’d probably have to do some recruiting,” said Unruh, a former chairman of the Wichita Independent Business Association and a longtime businessman.

But, he said, “If the opportunity is there, my gut feeling is everybody would bend over backwards to make it happen. One of the things we want to do is broaden our (economic) base, and that would do it.”

Location, location…

Parkinson said Wichita is especially well-positioned to take advantage of the wind boom.

The city lies near the center of a wind band that stretches across the central states from Texas to North Dakota, where demand for wind turbines is expected to be strong, he said.

In addition, Wichita has access to rails and roads that could move the mammoth windmill parts to installation sites throughout the region, he said.

At present, practically all of the windmills in use in the United States are made overseas – primarily in fuel-starved Europe, which has a longer history of tapping wind for energy.

Kansas’ only local windmill maker imports the components from Germany and assembles them here.

Dan Rasure, the managing partner of Sunflower Wind LLC, said the company started out with a group that had some land and wanted to develop a wind farm in western Kansas.

But they ran into problems buying turbines and decided to get into the business of assembling and maintaining them.

Rasure said it was difficult to persuade the company’s German partner, Fuhrlander AG, to go along with the venture.

“They said, ‘We’ve looked at Texas, we’ve looked at the East Coast and we’ve looked at the West Coast, but we’ve really never focused on Kansas. Why is Kansas a good site? People don’t like wind there. Is it all that windy?’

“It was quite an education process showing them the wind maps and that Kansas was not all that anti-wind at all,” he said.

With assistance from city and state business incentives, the company has acquired a 275,000-square-foot building in Hutchinson that was tagged for demolition and is renovating it as an assembly shop. It is scheduled to be completed in about three months, he said.

Kansas’ wind generation

In terms of wind production, Parkinson said the state has made significant progress with about 364 megawatts of generation capacity installed at the end of 2007. Another 550 megawatts is expected to come online this year.

But he said that’s just the gust front of Kansas’ wind potential.

The state has the potential resources to generate as much as 7,000 megawatts of wind power, he said.

The state’s current generating capacity is about 11,000 megawatts, mostly from coal and nuclear power.

If Kansas added 7,000 megawatts of wind power, it would have to find other markets for the energy, because “There simply isn’t enough need for power within the state,” he said.

Kansas itself could only use about 2,000 megawatts of wind power, he said.

Parkinson proposes to sell the excess to southern states, which federal maps show don’t have enough wind to support large-scale production themselves.

“A very logical thing for them to do would be to buy wind (energy) from Kansas,” Parkinson said.

The economic benefits to Kansas could be spectacular – 5,000 megawatts of capacity would translate to about $10 billion in construction spending and additional hundreds of millions in royalties for property owners who lease their fields for windmills, he said.

Cost to consumers

There are some voices of caution.

The Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that advocates for residential and small-business consumers, wants to make sure utility customers don’t get blown away in the rush to wind power.

Board member Randy Brown said CURB is in favor of wind power as part of the energy mix, but is concerned about the potential cost.

Kilowatt for kilowatt, wind is projected to remain more expensive than traditional power sources such as coal and natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

While wind advocates maintain that it is reaching a point where it is competitive economically, their projections generally include assumptions of cost savings in environmental and public-health benefits, which have not been adequately substantiated, Brown said.

He said customers need to be heard along with the government officials and utilities that are the main players now.

“Utility rates are like taxes – it’s something you can’t escape,” he said. “The utilities are protected while the customers are not.”

Parkinson concedes that in order for wind to beat other sources on cost, it is likely that the federal government will need to intervene.

One idea that has been floated in Washington is a “renewable portfolio standard” – in essence, a requirement that utilities across the country get a certain portion of their power from alternative sources.

Another is a “carbon tax,” in which the government would charge utilities extra based on the amount of carbon-containing gases they emit.

A third possibility is a “cap and trade” system, which would set emissions standards that power plants would have to meet – or buy credits if they exceed the cap.

Any of those scenarios would increase the cost of fossil-fuel generation and make wind more attractive, Parkinson said.

He said all the major presidential candidates – Republican and Democratic – have endorsed at least the cap-trade system.

“The chance we will get favorable legislation in 2009 and beyond is very good,” he said.

By Dion Lefler

The Wichita Eagle

kansas.com

22 January 2008

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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