It's no surprise to locals that Kansas is windy.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, the national industry trade group, Kansas generated 29.6 percent of its electricity in 2016 from wind power, ranking the state third in the nation for wind energy as a share of total generation, and fifth for installed wind capacity.
Kansas has 34 wind projects online with 2,741 wind turbines and installed wind capacity of 4,931 megawatts. The estimated economic benefits of the wind industry include 5,000 to 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, $8.4 billion in capital investment and annual land lease payments of $10 million to $15 million.
Given the state's top five status, wind farms and wind industry service industries have popped up all over southwest Kansas.
In addition to Buffalo Dunes Wind Farm, a 250-MW project that includes 135 turbines spread over land in Haskell and Grant counties, Gray and Wichita counties are both home to established wind farms that are having an economic impact locally.
Gray County is home to four wind farms, all owned by NextEra Energy Resources. The Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma was built in 2001 and generates 112.2 MW from 170 turbines. Others in the county include Cimarron I, a 72-turbine, 165-MW farm; Cimarron II, a 131.1-MW farm; and the Ensign Wind project, a 99-MW, 43-turbine wind farm.
According to its website, Gray County estimates a roughly $1.3 million impact in 2018 from wind farms for Gray county libraries, schools, hospital and fire departments. Gray County's 2017 budget alone listed $658,592 in revenue from wind energy companies.
Cimarron-Ensign USD 102 Superintendent Mike Stegman said the district receives an annual gift due to the wind farm contract developers signed with the county, which amounted to around $370,000 this past year.
The money is not used for day-to-day operations because it is not a funding source that can be counted on to remain in effect forever. For example, Stegman said, something could happen, such as a new tax or new expense, that might cause the energy company to rethink whether it could continue to afford the gift.
“As a gift, it could stop at any time,” he said.
The district is putting the money from the wind farms into a savings account and likely will use it for future capital expenditures to take care of district facilities. But no specific projects have been identified yet.
“Right now, we're exploring options, but we're not far enough down the road for me to say we're going to do this or do that,” Stegman said. “We're trying to determine what will best serve our communities and the kids in the district.”
Stegman, for one, hasn't heard any negatives about wind energy from locals. As far as it goes, he thinks wind energy has some benefits.
“I've lived in western Kansas my whole life, and it doesn't bother me to look at windmills, or see the utilization of the wind that we've lived in for years. It's a great resource. It should be good for us,” he said.
Central Plains wind farm
The Central Plains Wind Farm, built in 2009, includes 33 turbines generating 99 MW on about 6,000 acres of land in eastern Wichita County near Marienthal. It is owned by Westar Energy, which pays about $500,000 per year in royalties to landowners and another estimated $250,000 per year in payment in lieu of taxes to the county.
“They're great to have in our community. We enjoy having them because they're a low impact provider as far as the environmental impact. The farmers have their own agreements with the company (Westar),” Diana Kirk, Wichita County Economic Development director, said. “They are a good partner.”
Kirk said a couple of Westar technicians live and work in the area, and the company has been good about promoting community events. They also worked with local EMS and firefighters to practice extraction and rescue at the wind farm. She aid she has talked to a couple of landowners interested in having a wind turbine installed on their land.
“I do know there are people who would love to have more of it out here. It's a good deal,” she said. “We have an abundance of wind in our area. We have a yearly festival dedicated to it, the Wind and Wheels festival, which is a way to celebrate the wind.”
Local logistics center
In Finney County, though the possibility of hosting a farm are unknown right now, Finney County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lona DuVall said the county is seeing more of a benefit from the logistics services provided by local company Transportation Partners & Logistics.
TP&L, an off-loading and distribution site for wind generation components, operates on Jennie Barker Road and U.S. Highway 50, serving the wind farm industry in a 500-mile radius of Garden City. The company currently has hundreds of acres of turbine blades, tower sections, generators and other components on site.
All of the parts that make up the giant windmills — blades, hubs, the machine heads that turn the rotors, and tower pieces — are delivered from TP&L via trucks to wind farms under construction in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and as far away as Wisconsin.
In an interview last August, TP&L President Jim Orr said the company chose Garden City because it's dead-center in the wind belt, a swath of the country that runs roughly from New Mexico to Louisiana and Texas to Canada.
TP&L started on 10 acres in 2011, and in just five years, grew to cover 240 acres. In the past six months, the company has added even more space with the creation of a new transload shipping center that serves not only the company's wind component business but will provide an economical and efficient means of transporting aggregate material for KDOT and other street and road projects in western Kansas. It will be used as a location for rail-to-truck, and vice versa, product shipping.
Orr said last fall that he expects to have well over 600 acres used for wind components due to the project.
DuVall said Finney County has certainly received its own share of wind-related benefit due to the presence of TP&L, and that it has benefited area wind farm development through a reduction in equipment transportation and storage costs.