Counties look to capitalize on wind

3/20/2010

By SHAJIA AHMAD

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Several new wind farms may soon be cropping up in the area, allowing Kansans to capitalize on the free-blowing breeze in a state officials say has the second most potential for wind power in the country.

At least three wind farm projects — two new projects in Gray County which may spread into surrounding counties and an expansion project at the 112-megwatt Gray County Wind Energy Center near Montezuma — are in the works, according to local officials.

In Gray County, local officials have been working with Maryland-based Competitive Power Ventures LLC, since last April on a 500-megawatt-capacity wind farm to be built north of Cimarron, according to Gray County Appraiser Jerry Denney.

Researchers with the energy company have been studying the proposed site that will cover nearly 38,400 acres of land and could produce enough energy to power 200,000 homes since summer 2007, and a conditional use permit was granted last fall to the energy company by the county commission, which includes both road agreements and lease agreements with landowners.

The commercial-scale project is to be built in stages, and the erection of about 72 turbines generating about 165-megawatt of power could begin as early spring of next year, according to Paul Wendelgass, the project's director with Competitive Power Ventures.

Wendelgass said the energy in the first stage of the project will be delivered to the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. grid and sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally-owned corporation which services most of Tennessee, parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky and parts of other neighboring states.

The director estimated construction of the first phase of the project, about nine to 12 months, could generate about 150 to 200 local construction jobs, and about seven to 10 full-time employees to operate and oversee the wind farm would most likely be recruited regionally, as well.

Gray County Commissioner Mark E. Busch described the budding economic project as a "win-win" situation for landowners leasing their land, the county's tax base and renewable energy efforts in the region.

"If we can sell a resource like wind that is free to everyone and is going to help out this area and our economy, I'm all for it," Busch said. "The wind is always here, and it's a resource that's pretty constant."

Gray County commissioners have also been in contact with officials from NextEra Energy Resources — formerly FPL Energy — the owners and operators of Montezuma's Wind Energy Center, which began commercial operation in 2001 and is responsible for towers which are spread over about 12,000 acres.

The energy company is planning to construct 67 1.5-megawatt turbines east of the current wind farm and to construct 13.5 miles of transmission lines to transport the energy to a transfer station in Ford County. Road and donation agreements are in the works, but a land permitting process has yet to begin, according to Denney.

A phone message to the NextEra project's director, Holly Starling, was not returned this week.

A third-budding project by Cimarron-based Zephyr Wind Power LLC is also in the works, a large wind farm project possibly spilling into several southwest Kansas counties including Gray, Ford and Finney, Denney said.

The project's director with Zephyr, Jessica Andrews, could not be reached for comment this week.

Kansas currently produces 1,021 megwatts of wind energy annually, most of it from its eight commercial wind farms statewide — the state is one of 14 to produce more than 1,000 megawatts of wind power annually.

Texas produces 9,403 megawatts, by far the state with the most wind-powered energy, and California follows with about 2,798 megwatts of energy per year, according to the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy says Kansas scores well on wind potential — second only to Texas — because of the amount of land available for the placement of wind turbines.

Though other states also have good wind power, especially along mountain ridge-lines, there often isn't as much space for developing large-scale wind farms.

In addition, on-site construction on a 143-megawatt wind farm in Hamilton County may also begin this fall, according to county economic officials.

Under an agreement between the county and the wind farm's developer, Acciona, a global renewable energy company based in Spain, the county will be receiving $300,000 per year in exchange for using county land. Construction was slated to begin in late 2009 but has been pushed back because of the national economic climate, according to Hamilton County Economic Developer John Kennedy.

Kennedy could not be reached for further comment Friday. The construction project is proposed to take eight to 10 months and create 200 temporary jobs.

Once the project is complete, Acciona estimates 10 to 15 full-time jobs will be needed to operate the site.

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