St. Joseph, Mo. The residents of King City and Rock Port take pride in the wind turbines that have sprouted on their rolling hills in the past year.
Citizens of Conception and the next-hill-over communities of Conception Junction and Clyde have watched supplies accumulate for their own wind farm, eager for the day when a gigantic crane will lift them into the future of renewable energy.
The turbines generate more than electricity; they produce tax revenue that can help the whole community. Landowners lucky enough to land a turbine (or several) stand to make thousands of dollars over the course of Wind Capital Group's 25-year lease.
Wind Capital recently announced that it would build a second wind farm near King City - this time to the southeast of town - but no turbines would sit on land within one mile of King Lake Conservation Area. Miffed landowners cried foul, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cried fowl.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife technically has no authority over the use of the surrounding land, but the group requested that Wind Capital take a one-mile setback for all wind turbines to avoid disrupting migratory birds and other wildlife that live near the lake.
"The federal government has no right to place a buffer zone on private land," state Rep. Jim Guest said. "But Wind Capital Group is going to listen to them because there are federal tax credits involved."
Many environmental and wildlife activist groups have taken pro-wind power positions because the turbines produce electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. Wind Capital's farm near King City, for example, sells electricity to a network of electric cooperatives that distributes energy across the Midwest. Despite the allure of green energy, environmental groups have stipulations about where wind farms should be placed.
The National Audubon Society has devoted numerous articles to the subject.
"If we don't find ways to reduce these emissions, far more birds - and people - will be threatened by global warming than by wind turbines," wrote John Flicker of the Audubon Society.
The Kansas Rural Center, based in Whiting, Kan., received complaints from some of its members after a photograph in its newsletter showed a wind farm built on an untouched grassland in the Flint Hills.
The center explained that it favored the idea of wind power, but with some restrictions.
"Public policy should encourage siting in cultivated or disturbed agricultural landscapes rather than native prairies," the center said. "Sites which despoil unique ecosystems or damage unique ecosystems or damage wildlife should be avoided."
Tom Carnahan, president of Wind Capital, explained how the environmental impact of wind farms has changed in recent years.
He said many groups that may have opposed past wind projects have begun to change their views.
"There have been environmental concerns about wind farms over the years, and most of that has to do with wind farms out west in places like California," Carnahan said. "A lot of those are older farms that were built 20 years ago when there were no regulations on where to site them, and some of those are in the path of migratory birds."
Changing technology has made wind farms more bird-friendly. Many old turbines had fast-spinning blades and used lattice towers that attracted birds for nesting.
The turbines in northwest Missouri are different, using a single support pole that offers little for a bird seeking a nesting spot. The blades also rotate slower, which is safer for passing birds.
David Waltemath, a farmer and banker from King City, has four turbines on his land and four more on a family farm where he is a part owner.
He said he traveled to wind farms in Iowa when he first heard Wind Capital was interested in building a farm near King City. On the trip he learned that ice falling from the towers could pose a threat to animals, but other than that, the people he spoke with liked their wind power.