While no wind turbines currently are churning in Finney County, make no mistake, the wind energy industry has a local presence.
In the meantime, the county has become something of a hub for wind turbine parts that fuel the industry, and is very much on the radar for future wind energy project development.
It isn’t for a lack of wind that Finney County remains without a wind farm.
“We certainly have the studies and know the wind capacity is there,” Lona DuVall, president of Finney County Economic Development Corp., said.
Finney County was on the brink a few years ago of landing the Buffalo Dunes Wind Farm, a 250-megawatt project that includes 135 turbines spread over land in Haskell and Grant counties, but environmental obstacles got in the way.
A portion of the project located in Finney County consists of transmission lines that connect to the Sunflower substation in Holcomb.
TradeWind Energy of Lenexa developed the project and initially considered constructing the site in the Sandsage Prairie just south of Garden City, but environmental concerns resulted in the change of course to its current location.
“We originally wanted to build just south of the (Sunflower) power plant, southwest of Garden City, and eventually the environmental challenges pushed us into Grant and Haskell with the main project,” said Brice Barton, senior development manager at TradeWind Energy.
The challenge was the longnose snake, which calls the Sandsage Prairie home and is considered a threatened species. As such, it is protected by the Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.
“The Sandsage Prairie is a pretty sensitive environment. It’s hard to heal it when you disturb it,” Barton said.
He said building a wind farm in that area would have required TradeWind Energy to replace the snake’s habitat somewhere else, and the cost of doing so couldn’t be justified.
“You can’t blame it on the species. You have to blame it on the cost of getting around it,” Barton said.
The Buffalo Dunes project is owned by Enel Green Power North America, Inc. (EGP-NA). According to a fact sheet provided by EGP-NA, the farm generates enough power to provide electricity to approximately 85,000 households. The electricity generated by Buffalo Dunes is sold under a long-term contract to Alabama Power Co., a subsidiary of Southern Co.
Irrigated farmland also can pose challenges to constructing a wind farm in some areas of Finney County, Barton said.
“That’s a hard design metric because we can’t get in the way of the center pivots,” Barton said.
Neither obstacle would prevent TradeWind Energy from developing a wind farm in Finney County, though, he said.
“I never rule anything out,” Barton said. “All projects have their own unique challenges that make them hard to do, but if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?”
DuVall said another development company currently is evaluating a site in southern Finney County for wind energy potential.
“We’re helping a company right now that’s looking at putting some towers in Finney County,” DuVall said. “It’s too early to know how it will end up, but they are at least looking at it.”
She declined to identify the company at this time.
DuVall concurred with Barton that any obstacles to wind farm construction are not insurmountable ones.
She said as long as the wind industry continues expanding, there will be plenty of opportunities for wind farm development in Finney County.
Parts are in place
Driving by the TP&L (Transportation Partners and Logistics) yard on Jennie Barker Road and U.S. Highway 50 in Garden City, it would be easy to assume that the county is full of wind farms, based on the number of large wind generation components there.
But all of those parts are destined for other counties and states.
“We have 3,000 pieces sitting on the ground right now, and that’s the highest we’ve ever had,” said Billy Brenton, vice president and co-owner of TP&L. “We probably put 15,000 pieces through our yard last year.”
TP&L is an off-loading and distribution site for wind generation components that operates a section of rail near its yard that ships wind generation components.
“We’re in the center of the U.S. from the plants, so it makes sense for them to ship the parts here, and then we can provide what they call last-mile trucking,” Brenton said.
All of the parts that make up the giant windmills — blades, hubs, the machine heads that turns the rotors, and tower pieces — are delivered from the site via trucks to wind farms under construction in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and as far away as Wisconsin.
The pieces currently being stored at the TP&L yard are destined to four wind projects under construction, but Brenton didn’t specify which projects.
With the recent passage of the federal renewable electricity production tax credit extension through Dec. 31, 2019, Brenton doesn’t expect business to slow down any time soon.
“Passing that tax just secured business for us in Garden City for the next seven years,” he said.
According to www.energy.gov, the production tax credit (PTC) is an inflation-adjusted per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources and sold by the taxpayer to an unrelated person during the taxable year. The duration of the credit is 10 years after the date the facility is placed in service for all facilities placed in service after Aug. 8, 2005.
“So if you build a wind farm for $100 million, the first $30 million of profit, you don’t pay taxes on, or you can take a certain percentage of electricity you billed and actually receive a credit for it, too,” Brenton said.
Barton said it’s an incentive that has definitely helped generate much of the wind farm development in Kansas.
“The wind probably blows hard enough in Kansas that projects will stand on their own without the PTC, but if it’s available to us, we do take advantage of it,” he said.
Ford County currently boasts four fully operational wind farms, and in the near future, another three are expected to go online.
According to J.D. Gilbert, Ford County’s assistant county administrator, two of the three new projects are currently under construction.
One is the CP Bloom Wind Project, a 180-megawatt farm with 80 turbines that will be located near Bloom and south into Clark County.
The other project is the Western Plains Wind Farm, a 280-megawatt wind farm near Bellefont. Westar Energy announced on Dec. 22 its plans to construct that project in collaboration with Infinity Wind Power.
According to a Dec. 22 press release, the Western Plains Wind Farm’s economic impact to Ford County, through land lease royalties paid to local landowners and payments to local and county government, is expected to be about $75 million during the first 20 years of operation.
Additionally, the project will create more than 200 construction jobs, followed by about 36 permanent jobs, and will involve a $435 million total capital investment.
Key components of the turbines will be assembled in the Siemens facility in Hutchinson.
Gray County currently has four operating wind farms, and according to www.kansasenergy.org, there are four other operating wind farms in southwest Kansas — one in Wichita County, two in Kiowa County and the Cedar Bluff Wind Farm located in Ness and Trego counties went online at the end of 2015.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, as of 2014, Kansas ranked sixth in installed wind capacity, at 3,167 megawatts. At that time, there were 26 operating wind farms statewide, with a total of 1,842 wind turbines that accounted for 21.67 percent of in-state energy production — the equivalent of providing power to 994,000 homes.
According to the Kansas Department of Commerce, projections indicate that by 2030, the state’s power system could provide 7,000 megawatts for export from wind energy each year.