May 7, 2011

Deal limits Flint Hills wind farm expansion

BY RICK PLUMLEE, The Wichita Eagle, 7 May 2011

Under an agreement reached between Gov. Sam Brownback and the state’s wind energy industry, the area where new wind turbines are prohibited in the Flint Hills has more than doubled.

The revised protected area will extend south to the Oklahoma state line, according to a map accompanying the agreement announced Friday afternoon by Brownback.

Designating the protected area as the Tallgrass Heartland, Brownback said extreme care must be used to protect the area. Most of the nation’s tallgrass prairie is in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas.

“I do not, however, wish to convey a negative message about the future of wind energy in our state,” Brownback said. “My administration will continue to work with wind developers and wholeheartedly support their activities in other parts of the state.”

As of January, there were seven wind energy facilities operating in the state, according to the Kansas Corporation Commission. A number of other facilities are in the process of being developed.

The agreement between the state and the wind companies is voluntary, Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said.

The expanded protected area represents 10,895 square miles. The previous area was 4,673 square miles.

Brownback said existing wind farms that are currently operating or have an agreement to operate within the protected area will be allowed to fulfill their contracts and have “every opportunity” to renew their agreements.

But those wind farms won’t be allowed to expand operations, Brownback said.

Two of those wind farms that will be allowed to operate are just east of Wichita.

One is in the Elk River Wind Facility that began operating in 2005 in Beaumont in southeastern Butler County. It produces 150 megawatts of power.

The other, Caney River Wind Project, is about eight miles away in western Elk County. The Caney River, which is under construction and is expected to begin commercial operation by January 2012, will have 111 turbines and is expected to generate 200 megawatts.

Brownback said he solicited input from a broad-based coalition of Flint Hills ranchers, preservationists, wind developers, power companies and government officials in coming up with the expanded area.

“From the beginning of our commitment to wind power, we’ve been equally committed to locating our wind farms in environmentally appropriate areas,” Bill Moore, president and CEO of Westar Energy, said in a statement.

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