Archive for Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nature, energy interests clash in Flint Hills symposium at KU

November 6, 2010


Kansas can have wind energy and the Flint Hills.

That’s what Robert Righter, a research professor specializing in the American West and Environmental History at Southern Methodist University, told a crowd at Kansas University on Friday evening. The group had gathered for a symposium titled “Preservation and Innovation: Climate Change, Agriculture and Wind Energy in the Kansas Flint Hills.”

The Flint Hills pose an environmental dilemma for many green-minded Kansans.

The region is a prime spot to harness wind energy while also being close to powerful transmission lines to carry that energy to the cities that need it. However, it is also holds some of the last remaining tallgrass prairie in the country and is home to dwindling bird populations.

One of five speakers at the symposium, Righter said that if people don’t want wind turbines in their community, then they shouldn’t have them.

“There are hundreds of projects throughout the American West and many of these are going to go through because people want them,” Righter said, noting that there were also plenty of wide, open spaces to place wind turbines.

“All I am saying is build them elsewhere,” Righter said.

Wind developers had to go through a learning process in Kansas, said Mark Lawlor, who was a former project manager for Horizon Wind Energy and is now director of development of Clean Line Energy Partners.

“People saw the Flint Hills, this amazing wide, open space with transmission lines and thought it would be pretty ideal,” Lawlor said.

And, then wind developers learned of the existence of prairie chickens and tallgrass prairie, not to mention issues with land management, economic development and tourism.

“That is a lot of challenges,” Lawlor said.

From there, developers started looking west, where the wind was still good and communities far more welcoming.

“I think the good news for the Flint Hills is that a trend is certainly beginning to move in the other direction,” Lawlor said.

In 2004, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement discouraging wind development in what is known as the “Heart of the Flint Hills”, an area that protects more than half of the 9,680 square miles of tallgrass prairie that runs from the Nebraska to Oklahoma borders.

However, wind farms are still being proposed for areas near the Heart of the Flint Hills designation, such as the Caney River Wind Project in Elk County.

Kelly Kindscher, a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey and courtesy professor in KU’s environmental studies program, recognized that wind power has far fewer environmental impacts than coal or nuclear energy. But he argued that wind farms still disturb animal habitat by fragmenting land.

He urged students to get involved in protecting wind farms that would be built in the Flint Hills region.

“My plea — why can’t we have green energy that is green environmentally through and through,” Kindscher said.


Frank A Janzen 7 years, 3 months ago

"He urged students to get involved in protecting wind farms that would be built in the Flint Hills region." Shouldn't that be "protesting" wind farms?

TNPlates 7 years, 3 months ago

Glad to see KU addressing this issue five years after it quit being an issue. This was a hot, local issue in 2003-2004, but since Sebelius came out with the Heart of the Flint Hills area, no new projects have been proposed in that area and all previously proposed projects there dried up and blew away. I see that C-Change sponsored this forum - was it co-sponsored by the History Department?

TNPlates 7 years, 3 months ago

"Righter said that if people don’t want wind turbines in their community, then they shouldn’t have them."

The SMU Professor may not realize that there were entire communities in the Flint Hills that wanted wind farms. There were wealthy and powerful interests who did not. Wanna guess who influenced the Governor?

Richard Heckler 7 years, 3 months ago

Hey Kelly,

How about along the highways in the right of way close to power line poles? Stay out of the prairies proper.

Hey wind power producers what about the right of ways? Or other Kansas locations entirely.

There are several miles of wind generators along I-70 west of Salina...

DennisToll 7 years, 3 months ago

@TNPlates, This certainly is not a dead issue, it is still very current, as the proposed Caney River Valley project will attest. I also disagree that "entire communities" wanted a wind energy project. Certainly there were divided communities, but "entire" communities?

TNPlates 7 years, 3 months ago

Perhaps not "entire" communities, but there were areas where a seeming large majority of locals were for projects and the dissenters were from outside the immediate area. Overall, I agree that communities were divided.

I stand by my statement that most of the influence against the projects were from folks who lived elsewhere, though may have owned land in the areas.

As I recall, the Elk River project (just south of the exclusion box) was in a zoned county and passed the local siting review, which was why Sebelius didn't challenge it. Is it similar in Elk County and Caney River?

Clara Westphal 7 years, 3 months ago

Stay out of the Flint Hills for anything that is going to disturb the land. I am not a tree hugger but the Flint Hills area is a very special place.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

This is an important and healthy discussion to have. We certainly didn't get one when coal and nuclear powered plants were first built, and they are much more disruptive and destructive technologies than wind turbines are.

ralphralph 7 years, 3 months ago

I disagree. A second nuclear unit at Wolf Creek --- where a relatively small parcel of land already has been industrialized and connected to transmission lines --- would render unnecessary the scattering of windmills throughout the hills and the industrialization of larger and larger areas,with a much less effective and efficient generation technology.

Centralizing production at an existing plant such as Wolf Creek limits industrialization to that site, rather than dispersing it over a broad area of diverse habitats. Modern nuclear technology remains the only solution to our energy demands.

I agree with you on coal. It makes no sense that we (not just the USA, but the World) are still mining and burning coal for energy. That we are doing so, though, is primarily attributable to irrational opposition to modern nuclear energy .... another one of those "unintended consequences" things. By opposing nuclear energy, you are promoting coal and oil, as there is no effective alternative.

Windmills are a good option for supplemental power. They are not an option for baseload energy. I'm not willing to trade the beauty of the countryside and the habitat of wildlife for a feel-good fad that is an insufficient solution to a misidentified problem.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 3 months ago

"A second nuclear unit at Wolf Creek --- where a relatively small parcel of land already has been industrialized and connected to transmission lines "

I won't go into all the negatives of nuclear power (mostly because they are so numerous) but if you think that another nuclear plant at Wolf Creek would have a footprint limited to that one site, you are sorely mistaken.

blindrabbit 7 years, 3 months ago

Why muck up one of only two naturally attractive parts of Kansas; the other being the Gyp. Hill in Barber and Comanche Counties.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.