Topeka A European utility company is teaming up with a Lenexa-based wind farm developer to build a 400-megawatt wind farm in southwest Kansas.
Enel Green Power North America, the American subsidiary of Enel S.p.A., based in Italy, and Tradewind Energy of Lenexa announced the project Friday during a press conference with Gov. Sam Brownback, calling it a significant step forward for Kansas' growing wind energy industry.
The $613 million Cimarron Bend project will be the largest wind farm Enel has ever built anywhere in the world, and it will be the second largest wind farm in Kansas, behind the 470-megawatt Flat Ridge 2 wind farm near Wichita.
"As one of the largest wind projects in the state, Cimarron Bend will create approximately 350 construction jobs, and the energy produced from this wind project this year will be enough to power approximately 150,000 U.S. households, or the equivalent of every household in the city of Topeka, for nearly three years," said Don Miller, vice president of engineering and construction for Enel Green Power North America.
The project will consist of 200 wind turbines spread across 60 square miles in Clark County, just south of Dodge City.
It will sell power to the Board of Public Utilities, the municipal electric utility in Kansas City, Kan., as well as to Google, one of the first non-utility purchasers of wind energy in Kansas.
"We like to refer to Kansas as being the Saudi Arabia of wind," said BPU general manager Don Gray.
Gray said when the Cimarron Bend project is fully online next year, it will increase the size of BPU's renewable portfolio to 45 percent of its total energy output.
But more importantly, he said the price BPU is paying over the course of its 20-year contract will make wind energy from Cimarron Bend nearly the cheapest electricity that BPU buys, almost equal to the price of energy from its own coal-fired power plant.
"When they told me the price, I just about fell out of my chair," Gray said. "I didn't realize that in this fairly short time period that the economics of obtaining wind energy is really showing itself. ... It's going to be one of the lowest-cost energy resources that we have in our generation mix."
That statement runs counter to the claims of many critics of state and federal renewable energy mandates, including many conservatives in the Kansas Legislature who have said renewable energy is more expensive than traditional fossil fuel-generated power, and that the mandates drive up the cost of electricity for customers.
But Gray said the low cost — which is subsidized, in part, by federal renewable energy tax credits — combined with the price stability that BPU gets from its 20-year contract will help shield BPU customers from the volatility of prices in the oil and gas markets, including sudden price spikes that get passed along directly to consumers as a cost-of-energy charge.
Still, Gray said he and others in the utility industry are not ready to abandon coal and natural gas as reliable sources of their "base-load" energy.
"We feel diversity of fuel mix is still critical," he said. "I hate to see this whole anti-coal effort, for example, wanting to wipe them all off the map right now, because you can store coal, and coal is still a very economic base-load of generation, as well as natural gas."
"I agree with that statement wholeheartedly," Brownback said. "You've got to have that for reliability of the grid."
The Cimarron Bend project is one of 10 new wind energy projects in development that are expected to come online by the first quarter of 2017. When they're completed, wind will account for more than 23 percent of all the electricity produced in Kansas.