Turbine time

by Dale Hogg
The Great Bend Tribune, April 30, 2007

Commission OKs Brantley's wind generator

Scott Brantley didn't get up and do a "happy dance" as suggested by a member of the Barton County Commission Monday morning, but he was obviously pleased as he left the commission chambers after a conditional use permit for his proposed private wind generator was approved.

The commission unanimously OKed the resolution which paves the way for the wind energy conversion system on Brantley's property west of U.S. 281 between Great Bend and Hoisington. His request had been ensnared in regulatory red tape since last November when he first approached county officials.

His land falls in a special use zone encircling the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area in which tower-type structures are restricted.

In addressing the commission, county Environmental Manager Judy Goreham said the Brantley proposal has been given a positive nod from all parties involved.

Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has "pretty much given their blessing to the location," Goreham said. It has also made it through the Barton County Planning Commission and past the scrutiny of Brantley's neighbors.

"He has painstakingly done everything he needs to do," she said.

"If this passes, I expect you to get up and do a happy dance," Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said. Brantley said he'd be willing to do so.

After the vote, commission Chairman Joe Wilson said "you're the proud owner of a resolution." This was followed by a round of applause.

Brantley formed West Wind Energy LLC in November 2006, an enterprise which refurbishes wind generators for private, non-commercial use. He's had a wind turbine on his property since early last year.

"It was good news," Brantley said. "Now we can proceed."

He will remove his existing generator and put up a new, taller one. It was this new turbine that he started seeking approval for six months ago and is like the ones he will be selling.

"We finally got there," he said.


Hayden: Wetlands should be protected, appreciated

by Chuck Smith
The Great Bend Tribune, April 2, 2007

Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department Secretary Mike Hayden told the Barton County Commission Monday that his department is satisfied with the protections that are afforded Cheyenne Bottoms in the Wind Energy Conversion Systems resolution that was adopted, even with the revisions.

The secretary said everyone needs to understand there is a good reason that a lot of people have been concerned about this issue and that the deliberations have gone on so long and so carefully.

"Cheyenne Bottoms is a very, very unique place," Hayden said, adding it is easy for locals to take it for granted "because it's been here for a long time."

Noting the Bottoms is officially a "wetland of international significance," Hayden added the state has especially been serious about investing in the facility since the late 1980s when it was determined that, frankly, years of neglect needed to be turned around.

Since then, he noted, Kansas has invested "tremendous amounts of money" in the refuge, first developing the system that allows the refuge staff to better manage the water in the marsh.

Over the course of 17 years, the state has invested close to $17 million in the Bottoms, and that doesn't even include the $3 million that is being spent on the development of a visitors' center, Hayden commented.

At the same time, the secretary stressed, the state also sees the need for the beneficial development of alternative power sources and in Kansas that clearly means the inclusion of wind generation.

Not only that, Hayden said, but he also understands the concerns about private property rights, referring to his own rural, western Kansas roots.

Calling the planning commission's final plan a "reasonable compromise," Hayden said the county resolution addresses the two significant issues.

The first is the safety of birds, that there be provisions for addressing "bird strike" problems if bird deaths become an issue.

And the other issue involves the view of Cheyenne Bottoms, that this area be kept natural to be enjoyed by those who travel here to visit it.

"We wouldn't consider this type of facility in Yellowstone National Park. We wouldn't consider them in the Grand Canyon."

It's important for people to recognize that is the same sort of an experience that is being developed at Cheyenne Bottoms.

For the sake of the future development of the area, Hayden said, "we just urge you to err on the side of caution."


Barton Co. delays vote on zoning for turbines

by Kathy Hanks
The Hutchinson News, March 13, 2007

GREAT BEND - Barton County Commissioners delayed a decision Monday on zoning for non-commercial wind turbines until the state's secretary of Wildlife and Parks could speak to them.

No resolution was adopted, according to Barton County Clerk Donna Zimmerman.

Instead, Secretary Mike Hayden was tentatively planning on meeting with the group April 2 to discuss the building of wind turbines near Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.

Tabling action until he could appear was a "very encouraging sign," Hayden said. He plans to talk to the five-member commission about the investment the state has already made at the bottoms - more than $15 million since 1990 - as well as the future investment planning to be made in the form of a $3 million visitors' center.

The commission had received a letter from Hayden asking they wait until he can make a presentation before voting on a zoning commission recommendation to create a one-mile "no-build" buffer zone around Cheyenne Bottoms. Outside of that zone would be a 2- to 3-mile conditional use zone, which would require a landowner to get county approval before erecting a turbine. The recommendation only applies to residential-scale turbines, not large wind farms.

"We'll talk to them about the economics of tourism - recreation-based and eco-based tourism," Hayden said of his planned meeting. He also plans to discuss the fact that the bottoms and nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are also considered part of a National Scenic Byway, a designation given to stretches of highway with landscapes, and what it holds for the future.

"This is a very encouraging sign; at least they are open-minded and want to talk about it more," Hayden said. It will be a thoughtful process, he said, and a process he has gone through before.

"We are not opposed to wind or renewable energy," Hayden said. "It's a great thing."

But like a lot of things, he said, "It's very important where they are located, and we don't want it located where it would negatively impact other economic opportunities."


Windmill regulations still being discussed

by Chuck Smith
Great Bend Tribune, February 14, 2007

Changes to Barton County zoning regulations to address wind generation towers - an issue that has been under discussion by the county's planning commission for several months - will remain under discussion, following an action taken by the Barton County Commission Monday.

Commissioners agreed to send the issue back to the planning commission for more study.

Environmental Manager Judy Goreham told the commission that the zoning regulation changes that were being recommended would include details involving an application process; a boundary map of the area around the Cheyenne Bottoms basin where the construction would be curtailed; and plans for the utilization of conditional use areas outside the bottoms.

Goreham explained the planning process began last October and a public hearing on the proposed regulations was held Jan. 23. Then the planning commission recommended the issue to the county commission.

Commissioners said they had several concerns about the proposal.

"We need to think about sending it back to the planning commission," Commissioner Betty Chlumsky said, referring to the set up of the controlled area involving the Cheyenne Bottoms basin.

Commissioner Jennifer Schartz agreed that there is a need for the planning commission to reconsider the basin boundary.

Commissioner Kenny Schremmer noted there is a stipulation in the proposed regulation that calls for a company setting up windmill towers to be responsible for wear and tear to county roads, which is more than has ever been required of the oil industry or any other business that frequently uses county roads.

Commissioner Joe Wilson urged that there be a way to address areas where bird kills might develop because of tower location. "We have to have some way to remedy that situation," he said. "We don't want to go on killing wildlife."

Commission Chairman Rick Scheufler suggested there be a three- to five-mile conditional area for residential units around the bottoms and that there be a five-mile area around the bottoms where commercial arrays would not be allowed, while the rest of the county would be conditional for commercial arrays.

The regulations were sent back with directions for the planning commission to consider protection for the bottoms basin, the roads issue and the inclusion of an annual recertification.


Building a better wind making machine

by Pam Martin
Great Bend Tribune, January 23, 2007

Editors note: This is the second in a series of articles dealing with a proposed amendment to the Barton County Zoning code dealing with wind turbines.

An endearing symbol of the old family farmstead, the windmill, may have a modern day replacement, if Scott Brantley's concept for single wind turbines takes off. Before that can happen in Barton County, however, zoning regulations for the turbines must be put into place.

"Right now, they're currently outlawed and so are solar panels," said Scott Brantley, co-owner of West Wind Energy LLC.

The planning commission is in the process of developing regulations for single wind turbines, also known as Wind Energy Conversion Systems. After holding two meetings in December to hammer out regulation details, a public hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. today at the county courthouse conference room.

Brantley began West Wind Energy LLC with his cousin Eric Kramer in November, purchasing, then remanufacturing and modernizing, old wind turbines for residential, small commercial and farm applications.

"We've had a wonderful response and are in full restoration mode," he said.

The remanufactured turbines must meet a lot of regulations, Brantley said. The WECS must satisfy National Renewable Energy Lab standards, which require new motors and wiring and completely rebuilt transmissions. The blades must be stress tested and recertified.

"It's a new turbine with a new shell," he said.

West Wind Energy offers three turbines - a .5 to 5 megawatt per hour community turbine, a 65 to 100 kilowatt per hour unit for agricultural or light commercial use and a 40 kW unit for household use. The light commercial and household turbines would be classified as non-commercial WECS under the proposed regulations, with any turbine producing greater than 150 kW in generating capacity considered a commercial WECS.

Commercial WECS would be conditionally permitted in agricultural, commercial, industrial and mixed use districts but not in any residentially zoned district.

Although it took several hours to define noise restrictions, definitions and safety regulations, those involving possible negative impacts to birds took the most time and discussion to come to an agreement or, in most cases, compromise. Items such as the tower construction itself can be an issue in protecting birds, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Kansas Nature Conservancy.

Lattice-work towers are attractive to birds of prey as roosts, posing a possible danger to the birds, said Rob Manes, Nature Conservancy, during the planning commission's meetings. Manes recommended requiring all towers be tubular in construction.

Although Brantley's 65-foot turbine located at his residence between Great Bend and Hoisington has a lattice-frame tower, most of the towers he will offer for sale will be of tubular frame. As the proposed regulations stand now, lattice-frame towers will be allowed only for the smaller non-commercial models of 150 kW or 120 feet or less in height.

After discussion, the commission compromised with the size difference.

Another compromise struck by the commission dealt with the area at the top of the structure called a nacelle. The nacelle holds the turbine motor, transmission and propeller, Brantley explained. On Brantley's turbines, the nacelle contains a small fence or catwalk for the safety of the person working on the turbine. That small fence may also be attractive to hawks or owls looking for a vantage point to hunt from.

Mantes recommended requiring all nacelles be constructed to avoid providing a perch for birds of prey.

"There are inexpensive devices that can be used to retrofit the nacelle to discourage perching," Manes told commission members during their Dec. 12 meeting.

Although Brantley said he would not put a "perch over the safety of crews," he also said they do not want birds on the towers or nesting where they could interfere with the turbine.

In the final draft, the commission included a statement encouraging avoidance of creating artificial habitat for raptors or raptor prey.

Not all of the bird-related issues were so easily resolved. The item that sent the commission into an extended meeting one week later, involved a protective buffer zone around the Bottoms.


New 'wind' blowing in Barton County

by Pam Martin
Great Bend Tribune, January 21, 2007

Editors note: This is the first in a series of articles about a proposed amendment to the Barton County Zoning code dealing with wind turbines.

As Gov. Kathleen Sebelius called for a 10 percent increase in wind-generated power in three years and 20 percent by 2020 in her State of Kansas address, the final draft of proposed Barton County zoning regulations for single wind turbines was completed for a public hearing on Tuesday.

The process has involved lengthy discussion and compromise between wind energy proponents and those wanting to ensure Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is protected, taking place within the confines of the Barton County Planning and Zoning Commission.

"They've worked very hard on this and really been dedicated to putting together a code that authorizes as many wind turbines as possible without compromising the environmental needs of Cheyenne Bottoms," said Barton County Administrator Richard Boeckman.

The commission also allowed extensive public comment, holding two meetings in December to hammer out the details of the regulations, after Scott Brantley, who had just started West Wind Energy LLC, appeared at a November commission meeting requesting information on zoning for single wind turbines. Although wind farms, a grouping of several large-scale wind turbines, were not permitted within the county, the commission discovered there were no regulations at all for single wind turbines, also known as wind energy conversion systems.

The task of putting together a code for WECS fell to Barton County Environmental Manager Judy Goreham. She began researching the topic, gathering sample regulations from other states and counties.

"I used tutorials and models for writing it," Goreham said.

The amendment addresses physical characteristics of the wind turbines, including tower height, rotor diameter, safety provisions, siting and set back provisions. The proposal also includes a provision for large-scale wind farms, Boeckman noted.

"The proposed amendment states wind farms are conditionally permitted," he said.

"It makes discussion of large scale wind farms possible."

The nine-member commission dissected the first draft Goreham presented, sentence by sentence, with discussion and recommendations from Brantly and representatives from Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, Nature Conservancy and Kansas National Wildlife Federation Chapter.

"It resulted in many changes from the first proposal," Boeckman said.

Goreham also developed a detailed application form. The draft proposal includes a $100 application WECS fee and a $100 conditional-use permit fee. Applicants must meet specific requirements for conditional-use approval.

The issue causing the most debate - how large of a buffer zone to place around Cheyenne Bottoms to protect endangered and threatened bird species - resulted in a continuation of the meeting. Nature Conservancy and KDWP proposed a three-mile buffer zone around the state's and conservancy's land.

That buffer zone intersects Great Bend's three-mile extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction and Hoisington's, Ellinwood's and Claflin's one-mile extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction. Cities may pass zoning regulations regarding land use, density or setbacks but are barred from implementing such things as nuisance codes. The citys' zoning supersedes the county's, said Hoisington City Manager Allen Dinkel, who attended the county planning commission meetings.

At this point, Hoisington allows wind turbines within its jurisdiction, provided setbacks and other regulations are met, he said. No one has requested installing a wind turbine since the wind turbine amendment was added several years ago.

Dinkel is waiting to see where the final buffer zone is placed, as are the other city administrators. At this point, a one- to 1 1/2-mile no-build zone where no WECS will be allowed intersects with Hoisington's extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction. A three-mile conditionally-permitted zone intersects Great Bend's, Claflin's and Ellinwood's jurisdictions.

The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed regulation at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the county courthouse conference room. The planning commission then has the option of making changes or keeping the document as is, then sending it on to the county commissioners for their study.

The commissioners have the option of accepting the document by simple majority vote, Boechman said, or they can overrule the planning commission by a two-thirds majority vote and send the document back to the planning commission with recommendations for changes. At that point, the planning commission may make the changes or choose to send it back to the commission as it was originally.


Capturing the wind

by Pam Martin
Great Bend Tribune, November 24, 2006

The crisp November day was still, with just a breath of wind, really frustrating for Scott Brantley.

"I'm probably the only person in Barton County who enjoys it when the wind blows,' Brantley said.

He probably didn't think too much about the wind, except as a nuisance, until he installed a wind turbine earlier this year at his home located west of Barton Hills. Wind has provided electric power to his house and outbuildings since June.

As the wind speed picked up Saturday, the turbine blades began to turn. At seven miles per hour, the wind turbine begins producing electricity. At 65 miles per hour, the turbine shuts down. Within a 60-mile radius of the Great Bend airport, the wind blows hard enough to produce electricity more than 70 percent of the time, Brantley said.

It's been a fast learning curve for Brantley, who became sold enough on Kansas' wind energy potential to start a business, West Wind Energy LLC. Brantley, a chiropractor and owns Brantley Chiropractic, said wind energy always fascinated him.

"My cousin and I were always interested in how things worked. When we were kids we had a plan to use a stream, build a paddle wheel and hook up a generator to produce power."

That cousin, Eric Kramer, of Johnson, is Brantley's partner in West Wind Energy. Kramer is a custom silage operator.

"There's a South Dakota firm doing this, but in Kansas, this is the first I know of," Brantley said.

The first shipment of remanufactured turbines arrived on Monday, with their first full-time employee starting work. West Wind will install residential and small commercial turbines with a staff of six full-time employees, subcontracting concrete, electrical and electrical engineering work.

The residential turbines will be 80 feet tall and operate on a single-phase with a blade speed of 40 rotations per minute. The larger, community turbine has longer blades and operates on a three-phase system that is used for commercial operations.

West Wind will install the turbines and be responsible for maintenance. Brantley has already contacted several communities about the project. Chanute is looking at wind turbines to provide three megawatts per hour of power for the school and community, he said. The first step involves a wind survey to insure there is enough wind potential to supply that amount of power.

The cost of a 40 kilowatt-hour residential unit is $70,000 but with a 25 percent Rural Development Grant and 70 percent low interest loan, the initial cost for the home owner is about $3,500, Brantley said. Kansas power companies are required by law to purchase excess wind power with the average cost at 6˘ per kW.

"They pay for themselves in three to five years," he said.

The community units, which cost $1.5 million for a 1.5 MW unit, would be funded through 20 investors. West Wind would retain ownership with 51 percent of the investment. For commercial use, Brantley said wind power could be sold at 4 to 4.5˘ per kW.

The wind turbines West Wind would install provide supplemental power, Brantley said, which reduces problems with the more uncertain nature of wind generated power for power plant superintendents.

There's also an educational component to the business, letting people know wind technology has advanced. The U.S. has less than 1 percent of installed wind power, Brantley said, compared to 25 percent in Germany and nearly 50 percent in Denmark.

"We're just touching the tip of the iceberg in potential," he said.

When Brantley installed his own turbine, he was told by Midwest Energy there hadn't been a residential request in over five years. Midwest Energy didn't even know where the paper work was, Brantley said. He ran an underground cable from the turbine to a generator with a dual register - it records how much power he has bought and sold. From there, the power enters the home and buildings. Owners of residential wind turbines are paid for excess energy at 150 percent of wholesale cost.

Due to a bank of capacitors at the turbine, Brantley and his family have not noticed any change on power when wind power kicks in or off from Midwest's power line.

Another factor Brantley is working on is zoning regulations. In Barton County, land owners wanting to erect a wind turbine must apply for a conditional use permit. Brantley would like to see wind turbines zoned as a permitted use.

Brantley feels the time is right for wind power. The harder the wind blows the more power there is to be harveted.

Brantley may be contacted at West Wind Energy LLC, 197 NW 10th Ave., in Great Bend, or at 620-282-0207.