Wind farms may power FHSU campus

Kansas University considers possibly using energy source

The gusty winds of western Kansas may soon keep the lights on at Fort Hays State University.

University officials are considering a plan to build a small wind farm near town specifically to power the campus.

It would be the first such wind farm for a university in the state. But if it works, other universities may soon be using more wind power.

“It’s certainly not ruled out,” said Jim Long, vice provost for facilities at Kansas University. “As opportunities come, we’ll consider them. KU has been interested in the potential of wind farms and their development within the state.”

FHSU leaders are considering several options: building a wind farm near Hays on its own, partnering with a wind energy company for construction or simply purchasing blocks of wind energy already in production, a process often called “green tags.”

If FHSU builds its own wind farm, it would be on land the university owns two miles south and west of Hays, said Mike Barnett, vice president of administration and finance. It would need to have two or three turbines to accommodate the 3.2 megawatts needed daily.

The turbines cost about $1.5 million apiece to build, Barnett said. Despite the large up-front costs, the university could lock in energy costs for the long term, though it likely would still need a backup energy source.

“One thing we won’t do is put the university at risk,” he said. “If it doesn’t make sense financially, we won’t do it.”

KU’s Student Senate is considering adding a $1 fee to purchase enough “green tags” to power the Student Recreation Fitness Center. And the entire university in 2002 considered purchasing a portion of its energy as wind power, though the company offering to partner with KU later had its proposal for a wind farm rejected by Butler County commissioners.

Long said there were no plans on the table to purchase wind power but said KU would be interested if it made sense financially.

“We’d look at proposals and would seek to pioneer in any effort that would be helpful,” he said.

But whether KU could build its own wind farm – as FHSU is considering – remains to be seen.

Donna Johnson, president of Lawrence-based Pinnacle Technology, a renewable energy company, said based on current research, there probably isn’t enough wind in Lawrence to create enough power for the KU campus.

“It’s not the best area of the state to put up wind turbines,” she said. “It’s not as good as the southern and western part.”

But Lee Allison, energy adviser to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said that thinking might change as more data is collected about wind in the state.

“We’ve heard from a lot of wind developers that they’re finding much higher-quality wind energy in areas around the state that you wouldn’t see on the wind map,” Allison said.

He said he expected more public entities to pursue wind energy over time, and universities likely will be the ones leading the way. Several universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, already devote a portion of their energy use to wind sources.

“We’ve seen a number of universities around the country get into this,” he said. “Students tend to be very intrigued and aware of energy and environmental issues. Students are saying they’re willing to pay a little more to voice their conscience.”