Topeka A task force on wind energy presented Gov. Kathleen Sebelius with several options Monday to preserve the state's remaining tallgrass prairie while encouraging development of a renewable and sustainable energy source.
Rose Bacon, a rancher from Council Grove and member of the Wind and Prairie Task Force, said much of the report given to Sebelius would require legislative action.
Sebelius agreed, asking all parties to proceed with caution and use the task force recommendations as guidance until the Legislature acts.
The 17-member task force, which was appointed by Sebelius and met eight times over the past six months, developed three recommendations with two options for each.
"I guess we could have locked the door and said we're not coming out unless we have a single recommendation," said Jerry Lonergan, co-chairman of the governor's Wind and Prairie Task Force. "But that wouldn't have done the task force members any justice -- or the governor."
The three main recommendations and their two options are:
- Preserve the grassland by allowing no wind development in an area of the Flint Hills defined by The Nature Conservancy, with a seven-mile buffer zone, or by identifying ecologically significant areas of grassland and using a three-tiered classification for development.
- Develop maps identifying protected areas by modifying maps to differentiate land boundaries among areas that should be protected, or by encouraging the state to determine protective measures for remaining areas of grassland.
- Reconsider the permanent property tax exemption for development by repealing the exemption, or by studying ways to modify state tax laws related to wind-energy development.
"The Flint Hills is a very important biological and potential economic area of the state," said Monty Wedel, a task force member from Manhattan. "We don't want to mess that up. We want to do wind, but don't want to put in the wrong place."
Supporters of wind energy have viewed it as economic development. The Flint Hills has been considered because of it's near transmission lines.
The task force said a moratorium on projects would drive wind-energy developers out of Kansas and send a negative message to businesses considering Kansas as an option, as some preservationists had advocated.
"Respect for private property rights, community values and local control of land use also discourages the implementation of a broad moratorium," the task force wrote.
Kansas' first commercial wind farm opened in 2001 near Montezuma. The Gray County Wind Energy farm generates 112 megawatts of power with 170 turbines, enough to power 40,000 households in Kansas and Missouri.
Wedel said the task force report, while giving the governor options, also gave local officials guidance as they consider their own response to wind-energy projects and land development issues related to protecting natural resources.
Added Bacon: "If her focus is to truly protect the Flint Hills, we need some comprehensive, across-the-board regulations."