A large group of people gathered in Reading Tuesday evening to hear a presentation about wind energy.
The panel of speakers included proponents and opponents of wind energy and people who were neutral on the issue. City and county officials from both Lyon and Osage Counties were present and helped organize the meeting, which was moderated by Lyon County Commission Chairman Scott Briggs.
Lyon County resident Jerry Karr was the first speaker to take the floor. Karr served as co-chair of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ task force on wind energy, which was formed in 2004. At that time, Kansas had one wind farm, Karr said. In 2008 the state has multiple wind farms. Things have changed radically in the past four years as crude oil has soared above $100 a barrel and other fuel is drastically more expensive as well, Karr added. In the next 10 years, targets have been set for alternate energy including wind energy, especially since demand for energy continues to rise in Kansas.
Another Lyon County resident, Richard Porter, spoke during the meeting. He also served on the governor’s task force.
“On the governor’s task force I was one of the very few people that was neutral,” Porter said. “There are many sides to the wind issue. …”
Porter talked about the two sides of the landowner issue – the landowner who wants to put the wind turbines in and the landowner who perhaps doesn’t want to look at the turbines.
“Probably with wind energy, it’s a view,” he said. “In open country you can see it for 15 to 20 miles.”
Porter said he has no problem with a wind turbine next to his property. He added that there are some areas, however, that are inappropriate for wind turbines, such as national parks.
“But all of us can have some disagreement on what is a pristine area,” he said. “There are people that enjoy seeing them. Other people would say ‘I wouldn’t want one 20 miles away.’”
Porter cautioned landowners against signing wind energy leases until they do their homework.
“Before you sign a wind energy lease, be informed,” he said. “Don’t just sign the first piece of paper that comes your way.”
Rose Bacon, who lives southwest of Council Grove in the Flint Hills, spoke following Porter’s comments. Bacon gave the audience members a lot to think about. Bacon, who is in the cattle and ranching industry, has done extensive research on wind energy. She commented on wind energy terminology.
“They are not farms,” she said. “They don’t raise anything. They are wind turbines, they are not windmills.”
There are no state or federal regulations, safety or otherwise, in regards to wind energy, Bacon said.
“There are guidelines,” she said. “But they are only guidelines. There is absolutely no teeth to them. If you, as a county, do not make regulations … you have absolutely no back-up of any kind.”
Bacon went on to say that you can generate electricity out of wind but you can’t get it on demand.
“… As you know, wind does not blow all the time,” she said. “… When the wind quits, all the people that want electricity will still want electricity. When the wind quits you will need reliable sources because then you are not producing any electricity.”
Wind energy will not lessen the country’s dependence on oil, Bacon said.
“The fact is that the U.S. uses less than three percent of its oil on electricity,” she said. “Kansas uses less than one percent.”
Like Porter, Bacon cautioned landowners when it comes to leases. She said if landowners decide to sign a lease, they need to make sure they consult an attorney who has experience in wind energy leases.
“This is a big-boy’s game,” she said. “Once you step into the wind world, you’re not in Kansas anymore, figuratively speaking … this is a very, very complex, intertwined business.”
Bacon talked about land impact regarding wind turbines and wind fields. Substantial roads have to be built, she said, with freight up to 100 tons. There has to be reliable electricity on site to power the turbines, which have to have a light on them and are run by a computer.
“Wind turbines not only produce energy but will use energy,” she said.
While talking about the effects on the land, Bacon showed slides of the construction of Elk River, a wind energy operation in Butler County. She showed photos of the land on the construction site that was disturbed during construction and talked about how the construction workers were not local.
“During construction your motels will be full, but that does not constitute local workers,” she said.
Jim Ploger, climate and energy program manager for the Kansas Corporation Commission, gave an update on Kansas wind energy.
“Wind (energy) has come a long way,” Ploger said. “Wind energy is the cheapest form of renewable energy around the world.”
While it’s the least expensive way to produce renewable energy, the United States falls well behind the curve, with only 8 percent of its energy produced this way. Wind energy in Denmark constitutes 21 percent.
As of Dec. 31, Kansas had three wind farms in operation, Ploger said. Several more are set to go online by the end of this year. At the end of 2007, 364.1 megawatts of wind energy was being produced. By the end of 2008, that number is projected to jump to 1,013.4 megawatts.
Ploger gave audience members a lot of projected numbers. He outlined the economic impacts of wind energy if Kansas produces 7,158 megawatts by 2030. This would mean 200 new long-term jobs; 40 to 60 of these would be plant only and $152 million a year to local economies.
The last speaker was Pete Ferrell, who initiated the Elk River wind project, which is located outside of Beaumont.
“I’m a fourth generation cattle rancher,” Ferrell said. “And first generation wind farmer.”
Ferrell lives within a mile of the Elk River wind project.
“Elk River represents hope for my children and yours,” he said. “… The high plains have been called the Saudi Arabia of wind … we’re right for wind development. …”
Ferrell asked audience members to take the last 750 years and press it into one year.
“At four seconds until midnight we begin to burn coal,” he said. “It will all be gone in four seconds. Do you understand where we are in ecological time? This is a statement about carbon and getting ourselves off of carbon.”
Ferrell said he ranches right alongside the wind turbines. A bit later in his presentation he showed a video of cows grazing under the turbines. He said the actual land taken out of production with each turbine was about one acre.
Right now, Lyon County is a good place for wind development because of the availability of transmission lines, Ferrell said.
“If big lines go into Western Kansas that’s where it’s going to happen,” he said.
Ferrell didn’t deny that construction on Elk River was messy. It was a wet winter in 2005 when construction was taking place.
“The good news is six months and it was over,” he said.
Like the other speakers, Ferrell addressed landowners. He stressed the importance of having an attorney help with negotiations.
“If you’re a Farm Bureau member you already have access to an attorney who understands (wind energy),” he said.
Landowners need to stand together when considering wind development on their property.
“If you want this, you have to be careful and you have to stand together,” he said. “If you think big oil was ugly, wait until big wind shows up.”
By Brandy Nance
2 April 2008
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