Archive for Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Harnessing wind energy proves challenging, but could reap profit

August 14, 2002

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Strong winds may be found in Kansas, but wind-generated power in this state faces an uphill climb.

Regulatory, financial, environmental and even aesthetic obstacles stand in the way of developing Kansas' wind power, according to energy officials who met Tuesday in Lawrence with U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan.

Even so, proponents of renewable energy said harnessing the wind would help reduce dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and provide money to cash-strapped farmers who lease their land for the giant turbines.

"We have the potential of $1 billion in outside development coming into Kansas," said Jim Ploger, head of the Kansas Corporation Commission Energy Office.

The meeting of wind energy developers and state officials was at Pinnacle Technology, which is a renewable energy consultant group at 619 E. Eighth St.

Donna Johnson, president of Pinnacle, said more needed to be done at the state and federal level to increase wind generation in Kansas.

"Kansas has been way down at the bottom of the pile," she said.

Moore said Congress and President Bush needed to establish a national energy policy that includes a discussion on whether to require utility companies to produce a small percentage of their energy mix from renewable energies.

But even though Kansas is rated one of the best states for sustainable high winds, only one major wind farm is in operation  in Montezuma, which produces enough energy to provide power to 33,000 homes per year.

Aside from western Kansas, the best place to locate a wind farm, officials said, was in the Flint Hills. The high winds and existing power transmission lines there can more easily transport electricity to population centers in Wichita and the Kansas City area.

But wind-energy development in the Flint Hills is facing stiff opposition from some who say the 200-foot windmills will disrupt the scenic beauty of the Tallgrass Prairie and hurt already stressed and dwindling populations of prairie chickens.

Joyce Wolf of Lawrence, a board member with Kansas Audubon Council, said the group was concerned about the concentrated effects of wind turbines on bird populations and tourism.

But Kyle Wetzel, head of K. Wetzel & Company, Inc., an engineering consultant firm, said wind farms would only require a fraction of the land in the Flint Hills. "A prohibition on wind farms (in the Flint Hills) could kill wind development in Kansas," he said.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said the potential for wind energy in the Flint Hills was great and that supporters and opponents will have to make concessions.

"There will have to be a meeting of the minds. Some areas of the Flint Hills are going to have to be off-limits to development," he said.

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