Governor says state has just “scratched the surface” as Kansas wind energy conference starts

After a slow start, Kansas is starting to live up to its wind energy potential, officials said Tuesday.

The state’s 1,000 megawatts of wind energy ranks seventh in the nation, major transmission line projects are starting to ramp up, and Kansas recently won a highly sought-after wind turbine manufacturing facility.

“We’ve had a lot of success,” said Gov. Mark Parkinson in opening the 10th annual Kansas Wind and Renewable Energy Conference.

But, Parkinson added, “We’ve just scratched the surface.”

Because Kansas is ranked No. 3 in terms of wind energy potential, Parkinson and others said the state has a lot more wind energy to develop.

Approximately 700 people crowded the sold-out conference, hosted at the Ramada Inn by the Kansas Corporation Commission and Kansas Department of Commerce. Energy companies and vendors jammed the hotel with information booths.

James Walker, vice chair of the board of enXco, a leading developer of wind projects, and past president of the American Wind Energy Association, said that Kansas should “keep on doing what you’re doing.”

The growth in wind energy in Kansas and nationally has been phenomenal, he said. In 2008, wind power contributed 42 percent of new generating capacity in the nation, and added 35,000 new jobs.

He said the key to further development is passage in Congress of legislation setting caps on climate change gases and enacting renewable energy standards, which would require increasing amounts of wind energy in future years. He said if Congress fails to pass the cap and trade legislation “as a fallback we should have a renewable energy standard with real teeth.”

One of the high points of wind development in Kansas this year, has been the decision by Siemens Energy Inc. to build a nacelle assembly plant in Hutchinson. The nacelle is the unit that houses the gearbox, drive train and control equipment on wind turbines.

The giant German-based company plans to employ some 400 people and hopes to deliver the first nacelle in December 2010, and produce about 650 each year.

Guido Reuter, director of procurement for Siemen’s Wind Power in the Americas, said Hutchison bested 80 locations vying for the plant.

He said Hutchinson’s central location, incentive packages and the cooperation of local and state officials made it the unanimous choice to fit in Siemen’s strategy to build turbines for the growing U.S. demand.

“Kansas is now a major part of that global footprint,” he said.