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Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tax break fueling push for wind farms

Butler County project likely to begin in ‘05

December 28, 2004

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— A federal tax break potentially worth millions of dollars is pushing development of wind farms in Kansas, and as many as six could be operating within a year, a state official said.

Lee Allison, science and energy policy adviser for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said at least 14 projects were being considered in the state. The push is fueled by federal tax breaks that could save any wind farm operating by Dec. 31, 2005, millions of dollars for a decade.

The next wind farm scheduled to open in Kansas is a $190 million project in Butler County that is set to begin operating by late next year.

More wind farms are likely in Kansas, which recently ranked as the third-best spot in the nation to turn wind into energy, said Allison, who also is chairman of the Kansas Energy Council.

Wind energy projects in the works involve at least $1.8 billion of potential investment, Allison said, although he expects only six of the projects likely to be built. That's because transmission lines in the state don't have enough capacity to transmit the power.

Allison said the projects would be a boon to the state's economy, bringing up to 400 temporary construction jobs and 20 full-time jobs. Instead of property taxes, companies running the farms often give hundreds of thousands of dollars to local public entities, and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to land owners for use of their land.

But others say the growth of wind farms is not good news.

Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said the push to develop wind energy was being fueled by the "lucrative tax credits" rather than an interest in renewable energy.

"It's insane," he said, equating the hurry to "somewhat of a stampede."

Proposed projects in the Flint Hills area could destroy one of the few remaining stands of native tallgrass prairie in North America, he said.

Recently, a state wind energy task force proposed restricting wind energy development in the Flint Hills. The task force urged Sebelius to establish a "Heart of the Flint Hills Area," which would protect about half of the 6 million acres of Flint Hills from unregulated development.

Sebelius wants developers and landowners to give counties a chance to write guidelines on building wind turbines.

Allison said the federal income tax credit was critical to wind companies, which cannot compete against traditional energy producers without it.

The American Wind Energy Assn. expects the credit to spur wind farm development across the nation, making 2005 a record-setting year in terms of new wind energy capacity being built.

In addition to the supply of wind, rising natural gas and coal prices are driving interest in Kansas wind farms.

It's difficult to say which pending projects actually will be built, Allison said, because negotiations are done in private and most utilities work with two to five developers to find the best deal.

Eventually, wind may join wheat, corn, airplanes and cattle as economic driving forces in Kansas, he said.

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