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Ugly wind farms mar the Kansas Plains

We’ve all heard the saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.” I love the great outdoors as much as the next guy and figured the use of windmills for electrical power was a good idea.

It sure seemed to beat coal, big dams or nuclear power. Until I visited the Smoky Hills in central Kansas.

I’ve always treasured the Smoky Hills – craggy limestone bluffs, timbered draws and wide-open pastures. But go now and expect to encounter scores of white whirling windmills, covering the land in all directions.

What was once beautiful prairie looks ruined. It’s as if there is a monstrous cell tower on every acre, with spinning blades atop.

The Smoky Hills project was constructed by the Italian firm Enel, and although there were folks who questioned the deal, they found themselves trumped by the unusual collaboration of big business and so-called “environmentalists.” The politicians and media jumped into the ring with both feet.

The director of economic development in Lincoln County even said, “We think it is going to be a tourism attraction.” He wasn’t joking.

Last week Duke Energy announced they’re building a similar-sized wind farm on 16,000 acres near Dodge City, with the output going to Kansas City Power & Light Co. This makes KCP&L happy, not so much for the meager amount of electricity it will produce but because four years ago the company signed a pledge with the Sierra Club to add 400 megawatts of wind power to its energy grid.

I’ve got no complaints with the ranchers who stand to make a little money off the leases, and in the short term all that construction pays good wages and sells pancakes at the local cafes. But take a look at the real financers and you’ll run into folks like T. Boone Pickens, the old corporate raider.

Mister T. was one of the big guns behind wind farms, smartly taking advantage of government subsidies. He even proposed the “Pickens Plan,” which would spend up to $1 trillion on wind turbines stretching from Texas to Montana. Yet on his ranch in Texas, Mr. Pickens won’t allow them.

“They’re ugly,” he once noted. “The hub of each turbine is 280 feet, and then you have a 120-foot radius on the blade. It’s the size of a 40-story building.”

Recently, Pickens has backed off his wind energy dreams and has moved on to gas, which seems apropos. Word has it he’s trying to unload his extra wind turbines in Canada. As Kermit the Frog knows, it’s not easy being green. When it comes to extracting energy from Mother Earth, you pick your poison. We used to live in Farmington, N.M., near two large power plants and an open-pit coal mine. They weren’t pretty, but compared to those windmills the limited land damage of a coal mine and power plant look rather appealing. They are certainly more efficient.

With the wind blowing, the 16,000 acres of turbines near Dodge will produce 131 megawatts. Just south of Kansas City, the La Cygne power plant can produce 10 times that power. Without government tax credits nobody would be building wind farms because they cost more to construct and maintain than they will ever return in electricity.

Before we wrap the western half of Kansas in wind turbines, let’s look at what we’re doing here. Don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself.

Pack a picnic basket and take a drive out west into the high plains, just past Salina. And be a good tourist, get out of your car and check it out.

But be sure to gas up because after stopping in the Smoky Hills, you may tire of those whining white machines, and want to drive on farther west, to where the prairie becomes Kansas again.