Topeka — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday endorsed an increase in wind energy production, but called for "restraint" in developing wind projects in the Flint Hills in order to preserve the Tallgrass Prairie.
Energy experts, however, said it would be difficult to develop as much wind energy as Sebelius wants without using the Flint Hills area, which has been cited as potentially one of the top wind energy locations in the nation.
"I think it's encouraging in asking the utilities to look at upping their amount of renewables, but implementing it is going to be tough," said Donna Johnson, a renewable energy consultant who is president of Lawrence-based Pinnacle Technologies.
"Where do you get the wind from is going to be the issue, if you don't use the Flint Hills," she said.
Sebelius described the policy as a balance between protecting the prairie while taking advantage of Kansas' natural high winds to produce electricity.
Her top energy adviser, Lee Allison, said the plan's goal was "to make Kansas the wind capital of the world."
Sebelius wants utilities in Kansas to have 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy installed by 2015. This would amount to about 10 percent of the state's current electricity generation capacity.
But Sebelius also said wind projects should stop for now in an area of nearly half of the Flint Hills. The move is needed, she said, to protect the cultural and scenic qualities of the Flint Hills, which is home to the largest remaining expanse of Tallgrass Prairie.
"I am calling on our utilities and wind energy developers to continue to show restraint on wind energy development in the heart of the Flint Hills," Sebelius said.
Of the Flint Hills' 9,680 square miles, which run the width of the state, Sebelius designated 4,670 square miles as an area where wind projects should be held back.
That area is bounded by U.S. Highway 24 to the north, Kansas Highway 77 to the west, U.S. Highway 400 to the south and Kansas Highways 99 and 4 to the east.
When the policy was first recommended in November, some wind developers said it essentially shut down potential projects.
One of those was a 120-megawatt wind farm in Morris County being developed by JW Prairie Windpower of Lawrence.
But Allison, Sebelius' energy adviser, said wind projects were being put on hold because wind energy developers haven't been able to find energy buyers in the designated area.
"We have not shut down the Flint Hills," he said. Officials with JW Prairie Windpower could not be reached for comment.
But Johnson, the renewable energy consultant, said energy buyers scattered when word of the policy recommendations were made public.
"Until the governor gives the go-ahead in the Flint Hills, the utilities will not buy power from projects in the Flint Hills," Johnson said. "They're not going to go against her wishes."
Sebelius urges counties to develop siting rules and processes to evaluate wind energy proposals in the Flint Hills.
Many landowners, environmentalists and outdoors enthusiasts have opposed wind farms in the Flint Hills because placement of the giant turbines tear up the Tallgrass Prairie and block the scenery.
Sebelius' energy plan also calls for:
- A state budget request of $800,000 to match federal funds for purchasing conservation easements from willing landowners.
- Allowing counties to develop rules and processes for evaluating wind energy proposals.
- An assessment by the Kansas Department of Commerce on tourism, wind energy and other economic development opportunities in the Flint Hills.
- An analysis of the impact of requiring state facilities to acquire 2.5 percent to 5 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
- Urging Congress to extend federal tax credits for wind energy.