Construction on the state’s largest wind farm to date will begin next week near Concordia, signaling another step in the growth of renewable power in Kansas.
But a coalition of wind energy and turbine companies told the state Senate Utilities Committee Tuesday morning that Kansas needs to signal greater desire on several fronts if it wishes to become a major player in the wind energy industry.
“It’s important that Kansas speak with a significant voice on what needs to happen,” said Steve Gaw, spokesman for The Wind Coalition, a nonprofit group of wind energy companies and turbine and tower manufacturers promoting investments in the south-central United States.
“The challenge,” he said, “is Kansas currently ranks lower in production of energy from wind in comparison to other states with less capacity.”
Gaw suggested Kansas step up its push for new transmission lines paid for through a regional, multi-state cost recovery system.
Federal and state lawmakers should also create a stable set of tax incentives and regulations, he said.
Otherwise, investors testified, development will tend to move where recruitment is more aggressive – including less-windy states like Iowa and Arkansas, both of which have landed wind turbine manufacturing plants.
Afterward, one wind company’s spokesman said it’s a matter of state leaders getting out and visibly making the pitch.
“When you go to wind conferences in Iowa, you’ll see the governor and the department of commerce bulldogging these manufacturers to come, offering up tax incentives to bring them into the state,” said Mark Lawlor, who represents Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, which is soon to begin work on a 200-megawatt wind farm in Cloud County.
Even traditional oil and gas states like Oklahoma and Texas are laying the groundwork relatively quickly to draw new renewable investors.
At the hearing’s close, Senate Utilities Committee Vice Chairman Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, showed interest in pursuing the issue.
“I think we’ll have more on this,” he told the audience.
But some in the crowd weren’t thrilled.
Margy Stewart said the state needs to approach the issue with caution and carefully regulate where wind farms build.
“These developments that are unthinkingly promoted will destroy native prairie,” said Stewart, who represents the McDowell Creek Tourism Association in the Flint Hills.
A bill to put state guidelines for wind-farm siting into law is expected to be considered by legislators sometime this session.
However, developers are bullish on the prospects for thousands of new megawatts of wind power to flow from Kansas transmission lines.
The state is in the “catbird’s seat for the lucrative market for wind energy,” said Zeina Al-Azzi of Austin-based Clipper Windpower, which seeks to build a wind farm near Greensburg.
“I challenge the people of Kansas to envision becoming a wind exporting state to other neighboring states, especially Missouri and Arkansas, both of which have a less competitive wind resource,” she said. “It could mean the addition of hundreds of millions in manufacturing investment and thousands of new, well-paying manufacturing jobs.”
Al-Azzi suggested Wichita’s aeronautical base could become a national hub for wind turbine blade design and manufacturing.
Clipper Windpower plans to continue pushing for a “robust transmission backbone” in Kansas and surrounding states, she added.
The state’s ranking as the third best wind resource in the country continues to make it attractive, she said, “despite a market that lags behind our vision.”
wind by state
Total megawatts of installed wind power capacity as of December:
New Mexico 496
New York 425
North Dakota 345
Source: The Wind Coalition
By Sarah Kessinger – Harris News Service
23 January 2008
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