Brownback expands area to keep out commercial wind farms

? Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday announced a plan that he said would protect the tallgrass prairie by preventing further development of commercial wind farms in the Flint Hills.

Brownback said he has reached an agreement with a coalition of ranchers, preservationists, wind developers, power companies and government officials to keep the area free of wind turbines.

The designated “Tallgrass Heartland” area covers nearly 11,000 square miles running from Riley and Pottawatomie counties in the north to the state’s southern border.

In 2004, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued a plan discouraging wind development in a portion of the Flint Hills. Brownback’s proposal doubles that area.

Brownback said his administration will work with wind developers to build in other parts of the state. And, he said, the Tallgrass Heartland designation will not prohibit construction of electric transmission lines. Wind farms currently under power-purchase agreements within the protected area will continue, he said, but will not be expanded.

The tallgrass prairie once covered 400,000 square miles of North America. Now, less than 1 percent remains, with most of that in Kansas.

Designating the area as the Tallgrass Heartland, Brownback said, would protect the ecosystem and increase tourism.

Allan Pollom, state director of The Nature Conservancy, commended Brownback for “his thoughtful and balanced approach. He has reminded us all, as Kansans, of the honor we share as stewards of the last great stand of tallgrass prairie.”