Library from Kansas
Construction on the state's largest wind farm to date will begin next week near Concordia, signaling another step in the growth of renewable power in Kansas. But a coalition of wind energy and turbine companies told the state Senate Utilities Committee Tuesday morning that Kansas needs to signal greater desire on several fronts if it wishes to become a major player in the wind energy industry. ...Margy Stewart said the state needs to approach the issue with caution and carefully regulate where wind farms build. "These developments that are unthinkingly promoted will destroy native prairie," said Stewart, who represents the McDowell Creek Tourism Association in the Flint Hills. A bill to put state guidelines for wind-farm siting into law is expected to be considered by legislators sometime this session. However, developers are bullish on the prospects for thousands of new megawatts of wind power to flow from Kansas transmission lines.
There wasn't much official business to discuss at Wednesday evening's Ellis County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, but that didn't prevent escalating tensions and heated arguments from taking over the meeting room. Commissioners had received one document proposing changes to the current zoning regulations, as part of a months-long endeavor to revamp existing rules. The proposal, suggested by the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition, was tabled until next week so board members could review the document and prepare their discussion. "I would just like to have time ... we need time to go over it and read it," said commissioner Barbara Anderson. Since the regulations pertained to wind energy, county counselor Bill Jeter could not be present, due to a conflict of interest he cited during the wind farm deliberation last spring.
Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson is laying out an ambitious agenda for Kansas to export thousands of megawatts of wind power to southeastern states and make Wichita a center for manufacturing windmills. Parkinson outlined his proposals last week to the state Wind Working Group, a commission made up of about 40 government and utility officials and alternative-energy advocates. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed the group to work through the details of implementing her goal of getting 10 percent of the state's power from renewable sources by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020. Parkinson, the group's chairman, said he selected Wichita as the site for the group's first meeting last Friday because of the city's potential to become a manufacturing hub for the burgeoning U.S. wind power industry.
Visionaries who believe America can -- indeed, must -- change its power consumption habits through lifestyle changes and increasing reliance on renewable resources such as wind met up with the harsh realities of long-entrenched utilities Monday night. While an energy consultant and wind developer extolled the benefits of wind power, ... vice president for Westar was declaring as myths the idea that energy efficiency could prevent the need for new power plants, or that renewable sources can replace fossil - or nuclear power plants.
Wind energy and coal plants are two buzz phrases seeing plenty of play in Kansas newspapers lately. The perception seems to be wind and solar power are the cleaner alternative over coal, but coal, according BPU General Manager Rick Anderson, is what makes BPU's rates the lowest in Kansas. "BPU has a contractual arrangement with Westar Energy to provide electricity from our turbine generators and in turn Westar provides us with our energy," Anderson said. The arrangement has kept BPU's average rates to 3.8 cents per kWh, well below the average of 8.1 cents for nationally publicly owned utilities and 7.6 for Kansas publicly owned utilities. ...House of Representatives Speaker Melvin Neufeld touched on the need for a sound energy policy in his 2008 Republican Legislative Vision speech. "Alternative energies like wind and solar power can play an important role in our state's energy portfolio, but the simple fact is wind turbines and sunshine alone cannot meet our growing demand for electricity," Neufeld said.
Supporters of Sunflower Electric's plans to build coal-fired power plants near Holcomb on Friday criticized a poll released earlier in the week that showed a majority of Kansans back the denial of a state permit for the plants. "As you know, a poll's outcome can be determined by the way you ask the questions," said Senate President Steve Morris, whose district includes Sunflower's plan for the new coal complex. Bob Williams, a Garden City businessman and Sunflower backer, agrees. "I'm naturally suspicious when people who pay for the poll end up getting the answers they're looking for."
The packed house and tense air at Wednesday night's meeting of the Ellis County Joint Planning and Zoning Commission saw no serious surprises. In a unanimous vote, the commission recommended approval of a conditional-use permit for Hays Wind LLC to install three 60-meter meteorological instrument towers on separate sites southwest of Hays. And there almost was no discussion against the move. But the crowd of more than 40 people -- and the nervousness apparent on many people in the room -- indicated one thing: It's been four months since a request for a conditional-use permit to erect a massive wind farm outside of Hays came up one vote shy of the unanimous approval it needed to pass the Ellis County Commission, but parties involved still are highly interested.
As a rancher in Osborne County that is not leasing to the proposed wind farm here, I took interest in your article of Dec. 31, 2007, "First Phase of State's Fourth Wind Farm Nearing Completion." I have spent most of my life working to acquire and maintain my ranch properties and one parcel goes back four generations. Am I to sit and let this huge, disruptive, totally scenery changing wind farm operation take place around me, as helpless as the bison that originally roamed the prairie home? I find business contracts offered me the poorest business venture I could ever make. One-third of 1 percent per structure value per year's rent offered or, to my understanding, under 1 percent royalty hardly matches oil royalty. What I see driving past the Lincoln project is a far bigger mess than any oil patch I've ever seen. ...I do not want to be part of a low rent wind farm and hope there are others enough so we have a Kansas prairie fully up to our counties true life blood support of agriculture. With faith in our prairie lands of Osborne County, I, for one, do not feel it appropriate to put up these tombstones to a failed agriculture.
A home sits beneath wind turbines in the Spearville Wind Energy Facility east of Dodge City.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius formed a group Monday to promote wind power, but two key legislators were skeptical it would make a valuable contribution to energy policy. ...But the Democratic governor's announcement received a cool response from two prominent Republicans, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, of Ingalls, and Rep. Carl Dean Holmes, of Liberal, chairman of the House Energy and Utilities Committee. "We need to actually do serious study on total energy needs and resources for the future," Neufeld said. Neufeld and Holmes strongly support a proposal from Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two coal-fired power plants outside Holcomb in Finney County. They argue that such plants are necessary to meet the state's growing, around-the-clock need for electricity. ...Sebelius and [Lt. Gov. Mark] Parkinson disagree, arguing that aggressive conservation programs and new wind farms will be sufficient. In October, Rod Bremby, Sebelius' secretary of health and environment, rejected a construction permit for Sunflower's $3.6 billion project, citing the coal plants' potential carbon dioxide emissions.
The Oberlin City Council has pulled the plug on talks with a start-up wind company that wanted to produce its power in the community's backyard. Despite that move, Sunflower Wind has no intention of backing away from its efforts to establish a wind farm in Decatur County, which is where the electricity would come from. The Oberlin City Council and Sunflower Wind have been in discussions -- for several months now -- concerning the sale and delivery of electricity to the community. The hangup, however, has been the language in the proposed contract that Sunflower has urged the city council to sign.
A decision by the Kansas Corporation Commission has led Westar Energy, Inc. to suspend plans to develop 200 MW of wind power by the end of 2010. ...The company said the order also indicated that in the future wind generation could be subject to "undefined operating standards" and "potential financial penalties" that have not been imposed on other forms of generation. ...In its order, the commission said it concluded the circumstances do not justify allocating to ratepayers the cost of an additional 1 percent return on investment in light of the uncertainties inherent in wind generation and the narrow margins as to whether purchased power agreements or ownership is more costly. The commission also said an incentive mechanism to maximize wind energy output is not necessary at this time. It plans to revisit the issue in two years.
Westar Energy said today it was disappointed in the Kansas Corporation Commission's order on the company's wind energy expansion because the KCC denied an additional 1 percent rate of return and left uncertainties about future regulatory requirements. ...The order, released Thursday by the KCC, also indicated future wind generation could be subject to undefined operating standards and potential financial penalties that have not been imposed on other forms of generation. ..."We are concerned about the uncertainty introduced by the commission's decision, particularly the indication that it may impose harsher operating standards for this new wind generation than it has imposed on other types of generation in Kansas," added Moore. "We don't see the order encouraging the further development of wind energy in Kansas."
[T]he Kansas Corporation Commission issued its order on Westar Energy, Inc.'s (NYSE:WR - News) request for the commission to determine the rate treatment for its proposed investment in wind energy. While finding the utility's proposal to invest in wind energy prudent, the order declined to approve Westar's request for an incentive rate of return allowed by Kansas law. ..."We are concerned that the KCC's decision introduces uncertainty as to how wind investments might be regulated in the future, increasing their risk and inhibiting such development. ..."
State regulators are saying Westar Energy Inc.'s plans to invest in wind power are prudent but aren't allowing the utility to increase its profits. The Kansas Corporation Commission's decision created uncertainty about Westar's plans to invest in 295 megawatts of generating capacity from wind farms in three counties, enough to power 88,000 homes. ...Construction costs and the fact that wind doesn't blow consistently means that electricity from wind turbines more expensive per kilowatt hour in the short term than power from coal-fired plants. But commission spokeswoman Rosemary Foreman said Westar shareholders' risk was lessened because regulators will permit the utility to recover its investments in wind farms through its rates. "The commission just didn't think it justified, the ratepayers paying an additional cost," she said. "The risk to the company is minimized."
Whether Kansans will get electricity from wind power was up in the air late Thursday after state regulators ruled that Westar Energy won't be able to make an extra profit for developing wind farms. The Kansas Corporation Commission rejected a key part of a proposal by Westar that would have added 1 percent to the company's rate of return for developing wind energy. Westar has said that it wanted the premium to compensate for the increased risk of developing wind power compared to fuels such as coal and natural gas.
...the Smoky Hills wind farm, which was slated this week to start delivering electricity spun from the prairie wind, likely will not deliver any electricity until January, a delay caused by the severe winter storm that set in more than a week ago. "Needless to say, the ice storm and snow last week really threw everything to a grinding halt," said Frank Constanza, senior vice president of corporate development at TradeWind Energy, which is developing the 250 megawatt wind farm in Lincoln County. "We're at the mercy of the elements." ...In early November, the huge crane that erects the towers was toppled by high winds.
Wind generators have been the Rodney Dangerfields of the electricity market. They're unreliable, traditional utilities say. And expensive. So when Rob Gramlich, policy director of the American Wind Energy Association, got up to address the fifth Kansas Electric Transmission Summit on Friday, he seemed to be suppressing a smile. A previous presenter had just dropped a couple pretty stunning figures: about 13,000 megawatts of wind projects have been queued up for study, and the total could reach 40,000 to 60,000 megawatts in the near future. To put that in perspective: total peak demand in the heat of summer is only a little over 40,000 megawatts. ...A huge stumbling block for wind development is that the cost of connecting the wind farm to the electric grid can fall to the local utility. Most of the wind potential in Kansas is in rural areas served by small electric cooperatives, who therefore could be forced to underwrite connection to the network even though they may not use any of the electricity.
Some of the state's top utility lawyers battled Wednesday over whether Westar Energy should get a chance to earn extra profit for adding wind power to the electric system that serves 674,000 customers. At issue is a law-- passed during the energy crisis of the 1970s -- to allow state regulators to boost the profit potential for utilities that develop alternative energy and conservation programs.
Let's face it: Most homeowners don't buy wind generators or solar energy systems simply for environmental reasons. They make the investments because they're banking on a payoff in the form of lower energy costs. Westar Energy is no different in wanting a bang for its green-energy bucks, which is why it's seeking a rate increase to support an $830 million wind energy project. But just how much of a payoff should Westar receive? And at what risk? ...To some extent, it's reasonable to place the cost of wind power on the shoulders of ratepayers. After all, wind could provide Kansans with an abundant, environmentally friendly energy source to offset the cost of fossil fuels. Westar and its stockholders should be given the chance to obtain a fair return on the company's investment. At the same time, though, the company bears a responsibility for keeping cost increases to a minimum for its customers.