Wind power divides environmentalists

Debate continues over Flint Hills area

Environmentalists are trading barbs in the debate over providing tax breaks to bolster the state’s fledgling wind-power industry.

“The state’s reputation is one of resistance,” said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth and a wind-power advocate.

But Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said he fears Blackwelder’s campaign will weaken efforts to safeguard the environment.

“I’m uncomfortable with an environmental organization like Friends of the Earth lobbying for the wind-power industry,” he said. “The wind-power lobby is plenty capable of lobbying for itself.”

The comments came in separate interviews Friday, after Blackwelder’s recent tour of Kansas wind sites with Charles Benjamin, a lobbyist for the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Klataske called the giant wind turbines “unsightly,” while Blackwelder called them “elegant.”

Audubon of Kansas has been outspoken in its opposition to letting wind-power companies build their turbines near scenic and environmentally fragile areas, especially the Flint Hills.

Brent Blackwelder, president of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, refers to a map of Kansas to underscore the state's potential for generating wind power. He urged the state to provide incentives for wind-power companies.

Blackwelder said the debate over the Flint Hills has stalled the development of wind power in Kansas. This delay, he said, only increases the nation’s dependence on fossil-burning power plants, worsening the effects of global warming.

The fact that Kansas boasts only a handful of wind-power sites, he said, proves the state isn’t doing enough to attract them.

“Kansas has the potential to be the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” Blackwelder said.

But Klataske said the state already bends over backward in its effort to accommodate the wind-power companies.

“They have plenty of incentives,” he said.

Klataske has allies in the environmental movement.

“We are not opposed to wind power or its expansion. Look all that’s going on in Montezuma,” said Alan Pollum, state director for the Nature Conservancy, referring to the site of the state’s largest wind-power site. “We didn’t say a word because it met all the preferred citing requirements.”

Pollum said efforts to expand wind power in the state’s most western counties are hampered by Oklahoma and Nebraska’s disinterest in buying and Colorado’s grid’s inability to carry electricity generated in Kansas.

“So the issue we keep coming back to is, ‘OK, how can we get it over to Missouri?’ and that brings us back to the Flint Hills,” Pollum said.

“We think it would be ill-advised to industrialize the Flint Hills,” he said.