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Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Massive windmills ready to spin

Environmentalists, landowners oppose industrial nature of wind farm

November 23, 2005

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— The 125-foot blades that rotate in the breeze near this southeast Kansas town soon will be generating enough energy to power as many as 42,000 homes each year.

Ninety of the turbines are operational, and the other 10 should be up and running by early next week, said John Hueston, site manager for the project's owner, PPM Energy Inc., of Portland, Ore.

The towers, which are 262 feet high with three 125-foot blades on top, are scattered over 8,000 acres of privately owned land south of Beaumont. Once the $190 million project is completed, the turbines are expected to generate up to 150 megawatts for Empire District Electric Co. of Joplin, Mo.

"Once we got clear of that wet weather in August we made significant progress," Hueston said.

The wind project is the second large project in Kansas. The 112-megawatt Montezuma wind farm, owned by FPL Group Inc., of Juno Beach, Fla., has been operating since December 2001, providing electricity to consumers in Kansas and Missouri.

And two others - a 30-megawatt plant in western Kansas and a 100-megawatt KCPL project, the location of which has not been announced yet - are expected to be built soon, said Lee Allison, science and energy policy adviser to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Though special efforts will be made to reseed land near the Elk River turbines with native grasses, the project has left environmentalists divided and angered some property owners.

Chase County landowner Larry Patton opposes wind farms and operates the "Protect the Flint Hills" Web site.

"I think most people I talk to agree that it's more industrial than most thought it was going to be," he said. "It just dominates that landscape out there."

He noted that 82 surrounding neighbors signed a statement opposing the project.

"Those people are still against the project," Patton said.

However, Hueston defended the company's efforts to tread lightly on the land.

"We've added a lot of scope and costs to the project to help protect the interests not only of the landowners, but certainly of the people who have an interest in the overall health of the ecosystem of the Flint Hills," Hueston said.

Empire serves about 157,000 customers in the four-corners region of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma.

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