Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kansas to Harness Wind Energy

Posted on Wed, Jan. 26, 2005

Kansas takes step to harness its wind energyBy Loren StantonCommunity editor
Thanks to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, something good is in the wind.
Earlier this month the governor adopted a set of recommendations setting forth a strategy for wind energy development in Kansas. It is a badly needed action.
While our state — the third windiest nationally — has stood by, many less windy states have been aggressive about developing wind power and cashing in on its benefits.
The governor wants 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity in the state by 2015. Currently, the state is only about one-tenth of the way there, but several utility companies are have wind-farm projects in either the development or talking stages that soon could get Kansas half way toward the governor's goal. The recommendations she approved will help encourage and assist those projects.
While local governments will have the decision-making authority in approving wind developments, the governor assured that the state will provide services and expertise to help guide local leaders through what can be a complicated approval process.
Rather than Kansas being a place that frustrates wind developers, the governor's initiative signals that she encourages them. We can only hope that other state leaders as well as local ones exhibit similar wisdom. Gubernatorial recommendations are only a start. There will be obstructionists who continue to stand in the way of progress, so success will depend on more far-sighted leaders refusing to allow the continued squandering of this rich resource.
Granted, opponents have some legitimate concerns. Though wind is a “green” energy resource, there are legitimate environmental reservations related to it. Birds occasionally fly into the windmill blades, so turbines need to be situated outside of migratory patterns. Also, the towering turbines would be considered unsightly in some locales, and special sensitivity to those concerns is needed in the scenic Flint Hills. Beyond that, there are a lot of minor and bogus complaints.
No energy source is without its downsides. Other forms give us such horrors as strip mining, oil spills, acid rain, foreign dependence, rising cases of asthma, and oil field attacks overseas.
Though not perfect, wind power's benefits are considerable. Kansas could become a significant exporter of energy, and that means money collected from other states. Jobs could be created. Income for the state and local governments would be generated. New income would flow to financially struggling farmers who sell wind royalties.
And unless the state drags its feet it can take advantage of federal matching funds for wind projects.
Lee Allison, the governor's science and energy policy adviser, said last week that utility companies are becoming increasingly more enthusiastic about wind. In the past, the utilities have balked at pursuing it. Allison said those companies now realize that wind energy is becoming much more economical to produce. He said Joplin, Mo.-based Empire District Electric estimates it will be able to save its customers $6 million per year by developing its planned 100-turbine wind farm in Butler County, Kan. Those savings aren't possible with every utility. For some, in fact, adding wind to their energy mix would cause a price increase. But still, there would be benefits.
Allison notes that once a wind farm is built the power a utility gets from that source is free. In effect, the company locks in a rate scale for that energy source for about 20 years. That's hardly possible with natural gas and oil, which produce constant price fluctuations that mostly fluctuate upward.
Our compliments to the governor and those agencies and committees that helped formulate the basis of her recommendations. The vision and good sense reflected in her actions must not be undermined by myopic self-interests.
In a state struggling for revenues and in a nation needing dependable energy sources, it would be irresponsible not to take full advantage of wind's power