Archive for Monday, January 28, 2002

s winds could be lucrative

January 28, 2002

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— Every Kansan knows there's power in the wind.

A Lawrence lawmaker and a Lawrence company are at the forefront of efforts to harness that might for commercial purpose.

"There are a significant number of electric customers that would like to use or buy electricity generated from renewable resources," said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican and vice chairman of the House Utilities Committee.

The nearby scenic Flint Hills, experts say, is prime area for the sort of wind turbine farms envisioned by Sloan and others.

The area's consistent winds, relatively high elevation and proximity to two urban centers make the hills, better known as the best last stand of tallgrass prairie, a potential location for electricity-generating wind turbines.

Legislation introduced by Sloan is designed to make that happen. His proposals are expected to be considered soon by the House Utilities Committee, possibly as early as this week.

One bill would allow landowners to form cooperatives, put up wind turbines and sell resulting electricity to other utilities. Another bill would allow landowners to join together to buy renewable electric energy.

The bills would apply statewide, but in Kansas the top locations to harness wind power are in southwest Kansas and the Flint Hills.

Overall, Kansas has the third-highest wind energy potential in the nation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

But more than wind is needed. Adequate electric transmission capacity is required to connect wind farms to markets at a competitive price.

Wind power in Kansas received a boost last year with the development of the Gray County Wind Farm in Montezuma, southwest of Dodge City.

The farm has 170 towers spread over 8,000 acres producing 110 megawatts, enough power to meet the electric needs of 33,000 homes, which is about the number in Lawrence, according to Jim Ploger, manager of the Kansas Energy Program.

"Southwest Kansas is the hotbed now, but the Flint Hills is the next best site, or in many ways equal to it," he said.

Ploger said he fields calls daily from landowners wanting to know how they can get started in the wind-electricity business.

It can be lucrative. Landowners involved in the Montezuma operation have lease agreements worth about $2,000 per year for each turbine, Ploger said.

The wind farm was built by FPL Energy, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light, and the power is sold to UtiliCorp. United Inc., headquartered in Kansas City, Mo. Each turbine requires only a small amount of land, so regular farming operations can continue around the windmill.

"It's essentially another cash crop. You are harvesting wind," said Donna Johnson, president of Pinnacle Technology of Lawrence, a product-development company that has worked with the state in promoting wind energy and other renewable resources. "Wind can become another resource for farmers, which they desperately need."

She said coal-produced energy is still cheaper to harness than wind if the pollution effects of coal are not taken into account. But, she said, Kansas has barely scratched the surface of its potential in producing wind energy.

"Wind is a great energy source that we can export and make a lot of money off of," Johnson said.

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