Commissioners OK turbine agreements

by Alan Rusch
Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter, April 12, 2007

Ellsworth County commissioners have reached agreements with Smoky Hill Wind Farm, L.L.C, a development planned north of Ellsworth, on the Ellsworth County-Lincoln County line.

After several months of back and forth discussions between officials from Smoky Hill Wind Farm and Commissioners Kermit Rush, Al Oller and Terry Kueser, agreements on payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT), roads and escrow were hammered out and signed at a special meeting March 27.

"I think everything finally worked out," Rush said this week. "It seemed like it took an awful long time, but we wanted to make sure it was done right before we signed it. Weíre glad to get it done."

"I'm in total agreement with Kermit," Oller said. "It took awhile - everything we submitted to them, they drug their feet until it was actually time to make a move and then they were receptive."

"Iím glad the process is over," Kueser said. "I look forward to having a positive relationship with them."

Kueser said he hopes the Kansas legislature will provide county governments in the future with some direction pertaining to the siting and governance of wind power generators and like projects.

"We're certainly very pleased to have these agreements signed," said Geoff Coventry, vice president of business development for TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, the parent company of Smoky Hill Wind Farm L.L.C.

Having signed a similar agreement with Lincoln County, Coventry said he was happy with the cooperation shown by commissioners in both Ellsworth and Lincoln counties, as well as the enthusiasm shown for the wind power project by people in both counties.

Ellsworth County Clerk Jan Andrews said the PILOT agreement stipulates Smoky Hill Wind Farm L.L.C. will pay Ellsworth County $125,000 once phase one of the wind power project has taken place. After the first year is complete, Smoky Hill Wind Farm will pay Ellsworth County $100,000 per year for nine years.

The PILOT agreement also stipulates that Ellsworth County will not sign any zoning laws relating to the wind power project.

Andrews said there is no decommissioning clause included in the PILOT agreement since that is included with the leases signed by the individual property owners.

She noted the agreement stipulates that if construction on phase one of the wind power project has not commenced by Dec. 31, 2012, Ellsworth County will conclude that Smoky Hill has decided not to pursue the project and the agreement will become null and void.

Finally, the PILOT agreement stipulates that in the event K.S.A. 79-201 (the tax exemption for wind farms) is repealed or amended in a manner that results in an obligation of Smoky Hill to make ad valorem property tax payments to Ellsworth County in a particular calendar year, the PILOT payments required in the agreement for that calendar year shall be reduced by an amount equal to the amount of ad valorum property tax payments made by Smoky Hill to Ellsworth County.

Andrews said the road agreement signed between the two parties addresses repairs to Ellsworth County roads if necessary.

Before the start of the wind power project, Smoky Hill Wind Farm will shoot a video of the roads in Ellsworth County as of the date taken. This will provide proof of the condition of the roads before the start of the project for comparison purposes.

Andrews said the escrow agreement stipulates $100,000 be put up by Smoky Hill Wind Farm in an escrow account at Citizenís State Bank and Trust Company in Ellsworth to ensure any Ellsworth county roads damaged during the project will be repaired at Smoky Hillís cost. Andrews said Smoky Hill will contract out the necessary road repair work subject to Ellsworth County specifications and approval.


Wind farm opponents force revision in bill

By Sarah Kessinger, Harris News Service
Hutchinson News, January 26, 2007

TOPEKA - Responding to opponents of a new wind farm planned in the state's Smoky Hills, Topeka Rep. Annie Kuether said Thursday she'll sponsor a bill placing new requirements on wind project developers.

But another lawmaker, who represents residents in the Smoky Hills, said he doubted the measure would pass.

"I don't think it's doable at all," said Rep. Josh Svaty, D-Ellsworth. "As long as you have a willing buyer and a willing seller and it doesn't pose any harm to any adjacent landowners, we as a Legislature have no business getting involved in those transactions."

Meanwhile, Rob Freeman, chief executive officer for the farm's developer, TradeWind Energy LLC of Lenexa, told House Energy Committee that wind power is increasingly cost effective compared to the rising financial and environmental costs of building new coal-fired power plants.

The TradeWind site in Lincoln and Ellsworth counties is slated to eventually produce 250 megawatts of energy. So far, utilities signing up to purchase the power include Sunflower Electric of Hays and Kansas City Board of Public Utilities and the company is seeking others.

"The Smoky Hills project is expected to be the most energetic site of any wind project site in the state of Kansas," Freeman said.

Construction on the first 100-megawatt phase is set to begin in March.

Kuether, a Democrat, said she supports wind energy and her legislation, which is still in the drafting stage, isn't intended to imply that TradeWind or any other wind developer had done anything wrong.

But she's concerned the state could lose scenic landscapes in the Smoky Hills and elsewhere with increasing construction of wind turbines.

"It's just that nobody has any rules to follow," she said. "This gives the county commissioners maybe a little more understanding of what they should look at when the big guys come into their counties and wave the money in front of them."

Ellsworth County landowner Gordon Homeier joined several Ellsworth and Lincoln county officials and residents at Thursday's meeting to show support for the planned Smoky Hills Wind Project.

Homeier's leasing some acreage to TradeWind as are 99 other people who own land in Ellsworth and Lincoln counties. He's pleased the lease agreement allows him to share in the company's revenues.

"It will become increasingly valuable to us as the project matures," Homeier said.

The company also plans to make voluntary payments of $300,000 in lieu of taxes to the counties because state law exempts property taxes on renewable energy facilities.

Virgil Huseman, an Ellsworth County landowner, lives adjacent to the planned site for the new wind farm. He came to the meeting with a small group of Flint Hills ranchers who say the project will damage native prairie and scenery.

"When you come over the hill going west on I-70 and see this view, it just kind of takes your breath away," Huseman said of rolling hills near the exit to U.S. Highway 156.

He backs Kuether's proposal to place into law a set of environmental siting guidelines written by a state task force in 2003. They include recommendations that companies inform adjacent landowners of a proposed site, that they also consider biological settings and consult with environmental experts, among others.

The guidelines were drafted during a debate in the Flint Hills over proposed wind farms there. The controversy led to state recommendations, but no laws, suggesting developers avoid building farms in a central swath of the scenic Flint Hills, the nation's last stand of tallgrass prairie.

The Smoky Hills weren't included in the recommendation, although the task force's guidelines recommend avoiding wide areas of unbroken native prairie.

Homeier disputed the contention that the wind project will go on unbroken prairie. The land is grazed, he said, and also has intermittent tilled acreage.

Svaty said the opponents have created an atmosphere that's hindered wind development and caused some investors to pull out of Kansas.

"You have certain groups in this state who are not going to be satisfied with wind anywhere," he said. "They will construe whatever they need to construe to make sure nothing ever gets built."

But Kuether said she's concerned the local residents' views aren't considered before a project is planned. She's hoping her bill will require developers to explain their intentions at public meetings.

Kansas currently has about 360 megawatts of wind power produced by three major farms at different sites. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recently called for expanding the amount of wind energy produced in Kansas to 10 percent by 2010.


Wind Talk: Informational meeting draws around 80 people

by Alan Rusch
Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter, January 25, 2007

Both opponents and proponents of TradeWind Energy's proposed Smoky Hill Wind Farm in northern Ellsworth and southern Lincoln counties were heard Monday afternoon during an informational meeting conducted by the Ellsworth County commission.

Virgil Huseman, a trustee for Garfield Township, spoke in opposition to the wind farm.

"These so-called wind farms in no way resemble your grandfather's wind farm," he said. "These are giant, industrial wind turbines, approximately 400 feet-tall, we heard 375 feet-tall this morning, that dominate the landscape."

Garfield Township has submitted a resolution to the Ellsworth County commission requesting they not take any action with respect to the approval of or enter into any agreements with TradeWind Energy, and do any and all things necessary to halt construction of a wind energy project until answers to several questions put forth in the resolution are received. A similar resolution has been submitted by the trustees of Sherman Township.

If built, Huseman said the Smoky Hill Wind Farm will destroy the beautiful view of the Smoky Hills.

"All we'll see will be giant turbines and blades spinning on the horizon," he said. "We're asking you today to go slow, be careful. The Ellsworth County commission is all that stands between the bulldozers and our beautiful hills."

Garfield Township resident Zach Grothusen asked commissioners to establish a moratorium on the wind power project in Ellsworth County until more answers are received.

"You do have the authority to put on a moratorium," said Rose Bacon, a rancher from Morris County. "You are in a position to make a difference - it's up to you."

Sherman Township resident Gordon Homeier, a proponent of the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, asked those gathered who were in favor of the wind farm to stand up. About half of the 80 people attending did so.

"There's our silent majority commissioners," he said. "You have had this before you for four years. If you have not gathered enough information by now, you never will. It's time to get this thing taken care of. Either with you or without you, this project is moving forward. You cannot stop it."

As such, Homeier said the job of the county commission was to decide whether or not they want to reap the benefits of a PILOT agreement with TradeWind Energy and to be assured of the safety of county roads and infrastructure.

"Both of these were addressed at your meeting this morning," he said.

Homeier then turned his attention to the opponents of the wind farm.

"It is not your right to tell me what I can and cannot have," he said. "Let's be realistic about this - we must go forth and use this earth to maintain ourselves."


Commissioners set informal hearing on wind

by Alan Rusch
Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter, January 18, 2007

Ellsworth County commissioners Monday agreed to discuss resolutions they have recently received from trustees in Garfield and Sherman townships, asking them to not take action on wind energy development issues until certain guidelines are met.

Officials scheduled a public meeting at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22, at the county courthouse.

Ellsworth County Attorney Joe Shepack said he received an e-mail from developer TradeWind Energy containing a map of both phases of the Smoky Hill Wind Farm project.

"It looks like they will be utilizing four township roads," Shepack said, noting Phase 1 is in Lincoln County, with only parts of Sherman and Columbia townships in Ellsworth County involved in Phase 2.

"We're largely irrelevant in this," he said. "I will get a hold of Rick [Nondorf, county road and bridge superintendent] and find out what we have up there at risk, if anything."

Shepack said his main concern centered on possible damage to the county's box culverts.

Sherman Township resident Gordon Homeier questioned the validity of his township's resolution, noting one trustee, Rick Pflughoeft, no longer resides in the township.

"That is not the feeling of the residents of the township, and they are not representing us," Homeier said.

Jan Andrews, county clerk and election officer, said it is impossible for her to know where Pflughoeft sleeps.

"I can't bed check him," she said. "It's up to the township - if they want to do a recall, it's up to them."

Shepack noted it is a matter of defining "resident."

Commissioner Kermit Rush asked Homeier what he wanted them to do about the resolution.

"You can understand there are other views in Sherman Township than this," said Homeier, adding he was unaware of the resolution until he attended Monday's commission meeting.

"We realize there are opposing opinions about this issue," Commissioner Terry Kueser said.

"Do you realize how little of Ellsworth County is involved in this project?" Homeier asked. "Eight square miles north of I-70 - none of Phase 1 is going to be in Ellsworth County except an above-ground power line. And there will only be 10 towers in Ellsworth County. I guarantee it, because I know where they are sited."

Homeier suggested commissioners pick their battles well, and do what is good for the county, and not just for a few people.

"We're not acting as a proponent nor opponent," Kueser said. "Our only legitimate interest in this proposed wind farm is to protect Ellsworth County roads and infrastructure. We don't have the ability to deny or create a wind farm."

In other business: [...]


Reaping the Wind

by Linda Mowery-Denning
Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter, January 11, 2007

SPEARVILLE - Decades ago, every house in this southwest Kansas community of fewer than 1,000 came with a windmill.

That was before the arrival of electricity and other modern-day conveniences.

For years, the few reminders of those early times included the Windmill Restaurant on main street and a sign at the edge of town which directs motorists to Spearville - "Home of windmills and Royal Lancers," the local high school team.

That all changed several months ago, when developer EnXco of California and energy customer Kansas City Power & Light dedicated their $166 million Spearville Wind Energy Facility north of town.

Spearville is once again the home of the windmills; however, these are nothing like the picturesque machines of the past. These soar over the flat landscape of southwest Kansas - not unlike 30-story buildings suddenly appearing in Carneiro.

The wind farm is the state's third, and more are planned, including the Smoky Hills Wind Farm in northern Ellsworth and southern Lincoln counties.

First in line for the energy generated by the Ellsworth-Lincoln wind farm is the Hays-based Sunflower Electric, which has a 20-year contract to purchase about 50 megawatts a year from developer TradeWind Energy.

That will be enough power to light 14,600 homes for a year, said sunflower spokesman Steve Miller.

The farm's capacity upon completion is expected to be 250 megawatts - which is more than twice as large as the Spearville project. There's also another difference - the Ellsworth-Lincoln project will dip into the region's unbroken prairie. The Spearville farm utilizes mostly cropland.

This past week, from Kansas Highway 283, the outline of Spearville's 67 wind turbines could be seen from miles away. Along Eagle Road, which has turbines on both sides, houses stand every half-mile or so.

Tom and Robert Rodriguez live four miles from the farm, but the colossal towers, which measure 389 feet from the base to a fully-extended blade, seem much closer. They even dwarf Spearville's grain silos, the tallest structures around before the windmills arrived.

"I'm fascinated with them," said Roberta Rodriguez. "I heard somebody in Spearville doesn't like them, but I don't know why. People sometimes park along the side of the road just to watch them."

The Rodriguezes watched as the towers were erected, marveling at their size and the daring of the workers who built them.

"They looked like they were that tall," Tom Rodriguez said, holding two fingers about an inch apart to illustrate the scale of man against machine.

Roberta Rodriguez said there has been no noise, no ground tremors - both of which have been reported other places - to disturb them. Other neighbors closer to the turbines say there is a "swooshing" sound, similar to ocean water hitting rocks. One farmer who lives 1,000 yards from the farm described the sound as "soothing."

Roberta Rodriguez agrees. "I love going out at night and looking at them. Of course, I have to count every one," she said. "The only thing I don't like is - why don't they send some of that power over here?"

Tom Rodriguez likes the wind farm because the resource it uses is renewable, unlike much of the groundwater that supports the region's thousands of acres of irrigated cropland and livestock industry.

A multi-year drought has only made conditions worse. Rodriguez said the nearby Arkansas River is bone dry.

"You could get eight inches of rain, and I think it would soak it up. It's terrible," he said.

Spearville is in Ford County, about 17 miles east of Dodge City. It's one of those places where the land seems to stretch forever.

Many of the crops in the immediate area are grown without irrigation, which becomes more popular farther west. The federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays a landowner to plant his more fragile land to grass, also is common.

As everywhere, farming can be a dangerous business economically. The windmills have helped because of the yearly lease payments paid to landowners.

Michael Hitz, president of Spearville's Ford County State Bank, said one of his farm customers has three towers on his land.

"That's $12,000 a year in cash flow for giving up an acre of land," Hitz said.

Others also have benefitted.

In lieu of property taxes, which are not applicable to wind farms, developers agreed to pay yearly sums to local taxing entities.

The Spearville School District, with 330 students, is set to receive $108,000 this year and every year plus three percent for the next three decades.

The money will count as a gift and not affect the district's state aid, Superintendent Mark Littell said.

A committee is looking at maintenance and repair projects, the need for new buildings and other options.

"We feel very secure, but we haven't really decided what we're going to do with the money until we see it," Littell said. "That money will be a big help. The wind farm has been very good for us."

Mayor Ken Domer, president of Spearville's other bank, First National, also is a supporter of the wind farm. The city is not on the "donation-in-lieu-of-taxes" list, but the lease money to landowners and the material purchased by the developers to build the wind farm all helped the town, he said.

He said the project required 1,822 truckloads of concrete and more than 600 trucks to deliver equipment and turbine components to Spearville.

Many members of the construction crew came from elsewhere, leaving the town without any vacant rentals as the wind farm was being built.

The site, operational since October, had added about 10 jobs to a community with little industry. Beyond farming, Spearville is home to Crustbuster, an implement manufacturer, and Feist Publishing, which produces regional telephone books.

Looking north on main street, the white towers appear to rise from the landscape to stand guard over the town.

"I find them kind of majestic," banker Hitz said.

He remembers one foggy morning, when the turbines were hidden except for when a blade passed close to the exposed ground.

Spearville differs from Ellsworth County, Hitz said.

"People drive in your area to see the hills. Nobody drives out here because it's flat.

"Is this as much economic development as putting a prison in your town? I don't know. They created jobs.

"We've got enough packing plants and feedlots, and what does the wind use? Granted it's not the solution, but it's part of it and we have to do something."


Blowin' in the Wind

Wind farm opponents ask Moran for help at meeting in Wilson

by Alan Rusch
Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter, January 4, 2007

WILSON - Opponents of the Smoky Hill Wind Farm development in northern Ellsworth and southern Lincoln counties were in Wilson Dec. 27 to ask U.S. Representative Jerry Moran, R-Hays, for assistance.

"Somebody said all politics is local," said Ellsworth County rancher Virgil Huseman. "We might see one of the biggest changes in the landscape of Ellsworth and Lincoln counties, probably in the history of Ellsworth and Lincoln counties, with the proposed wind farm."

Moran stopped at Wilson's historic Midland Hotel for an afternoon visit as part of his annual listening tour of the Big First District.

Huseman told Moran that the elected officials he has talked with have not seen a map of the proposed wind farm.

"The talk is that it will be 16 miles long and four miles wide, and you will drive through it today as you turn to Lincoln on Highway 14," Huseman said. "As you drive west toward Hays, when you look out over that big, beautiful viewscape, that will never look the same if this happens."

Huseman said Congress has provided billions of dollars in tax credits and subsidies to wind farm developers, but have not included with those funds any siting guidelines.

"There has never been, to my knowledge, a public meeting called by the wind farm developers to explain what they were doing in Ellsworth and Lincoln counties," he said. "It's all been done in secret. That's our concern, and I don't know if there is anything you can do about it, but it's a big issue."

"I know it's a big issue," Moran said. "In some of my communities, it's the other criticism - 'you guys in Washington haven't done enough - we need to promote wind energy, and you are doing too little.' And so I've asked my staff to review all the things that are out there that encourage the development of wind farms."

Moran said the location of wind farms should be a local decision.

"My guess is here in Ellsworth County or in Lincoln County there is this debate about 'it's my property and I can do what I want to do with it, even when it comes to wind farms,'" he said. "And there are those like you who take a broader view that says, 'this has a huge impact upon the vista.'"

Moran said he needs to study the situation in Ellsworth and Lincoln counties.

"Where do you think this issue is now?" he asked. "Obviously you still think something can be done to keep it from happening."

Responded Huseman, "I think there is some question about whether the county commission may have some authority or may not. I think we are trying to determine that."

At some point, wind farm developers will need to pay property taxes, Moran said, but that won't happen until state lawmakers take action.

Moran said this issue brings back memories of Seaboard Farms.

"This is like corporate farming all over again," he said. "And it is dividing counties still today."

"The mad rush to wind energy is so strong," said Huseman. "And the responsible government regulation of that industry is behind it two steps. I can't even build a feed yard without getting permission from the Department of Health and Environment. I couldn't even improve the bridge across my creek without getting a permit from the Division of Water Resources. At some point, they are going to violate enough people and enough beautiful country that government is going to say 'hey, we can't do this - there's got to be some rules.' And they will pass them, but it's going to be too late for Ellsworth and Lincoln counties."

Turning to other topics, Moran said his tour of the Big First District has been going well. He was to return to Washington Jan. 3.

[...] 


To address future energy needs, BPU reaches for the sky

Sam Hartle
Kansas City Kansan, January 5, 2007

While green may have been a prominent color of the past holiday season, it's also a color the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities is interested in for the future.

In a work session prior to the regular meeting of the BPU Board of Directors Wednesday, the board heard about the specifics of a new contract signed by General Manager Don Gray committing to buy 25 megawatts of wind power capacity from TradeWind Energy,LLC, a Lenexa, Kan.-based wind farm developer.

"We are excited about adding this renewable source of energy to our generating mix - it is important for our future," Gray said in an e-mail about the contract. "We strive for a balance in our energy development, and we're proud that Kansas wind power will be part of that mix."

The 20-year contract stipulates that the BPU purchase 25 megawatts of capacity from the wind farm. Both the BPU and Tradewind Energy declined to say specifically how much one megawatt hour would cost, but they did estimate a price near $45 per megawatt hour. The price is fixed for the duration of the contract.

By comparison, BPU's two conventional power plants, Nearman Creek Power Station and Quindaro Power Station, have a combined capacity of 631 megawatts.

"This contract is a hedge against higher fuel prices in the future," BPU's Blake Elliot said. "We think this will save our ratepayers more than $3 million during the next 10 years."

The power will come from the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, located about 20 miles west of Salina, Kan. The farm will generate 250 megawatts of power from 139 wind turbines spread out over 20,000 acres, and will be visible from Interstate 70.

"We believe that the BPU is going to be a part of one of the best wind sites in Kansas," TradeWind Energy senior vice president of corporate development Frank Costanza told board members Wednesday night. "We looked at more than 25 sites across the state, and are confident that the Smoky Hills area offers some of the best topography for wind generation."

The Smoky Hills wind farm will be the fifth wind farm in operation in Kansas. Costanza says the company plans to begin work on the site in the third quarter of this year, with plans to make the energy commercially available sometime in the last quarter of 2007.

"I wouldn't be talking to you about this type of wind project five years ago," Costanza told the board. "However, the economies of scale involved for wind generation now make it cost effective for this type of development."

According to 2006 data provided by the American Wind Energy Association, wind power's capacity of 10,500 megawatts represents just 1 percent of the 900,000 megawatts total power generating capacity in the United States. The AWEA shows that Kansas produces 364 megawatts. The Smoky Hills wind farm, at 250 megawatts, will be the largest in the state.

A 2002 study by the Public Interest Research Group estimated that Kansas has more wind energy potential than any other state, and if fully tapped, could provide nearly a third of all electricity needs in the United States.

"In general, as you move from west to east across the United States, the quality of the wind greatly decreases," Costanza said.

While the Smoky Hills wind farm isn't in the far western reaches of Kansas, it's far enough out to capture the wind, but close enough to the two initial customers of the project, BPU and Sunflower Energy, that transmission of the power remains relatively cheap.

Recent spikes in the costs of fuel used by utility companies has allowed for renewed interest in wind energy. Data from Tradewind shows the cost of delivered coal power runs at $50 per megawatt hour, while the cost of delivering Midwest wind power can range between $45 and $60 per megawatt hour.

A number of states have passed regulations regarding alternative energy sources, including Maine, which requires that 30 percent of power in the state comes from renewable sources. Twenty-two other states have passed similar laws, but Kansas remains without such a quota.


Vestas Receives 100 MW Order For Kansas Wind Farm

North American Windpower, January 2, 2007

Vestas, a Denmark-headquartered wind turbine manufacturer, has received an order for 56 units of V80-1.80 MW turbines to be delivered in the third quarter of 2007 for the Smoky Hills project located in Kansas.

The 100 MW order was placed by Enel North America Inc., a subsidiary of Enel SpA that owns and operates renewable energy plants in North America. Vestas will supply, install and commission the wind turbines, the company says. The order includes a five-year maintenance and service agreement.

"Vestas is delighted to secure another order with Enel, and we look forward to growing our relationship in North America," says Jens Soby, Vestas' president. "We are also very pleased that large international utilities now are making long-term commitments to the North American market."


Sunflower to purchase wind power

By Sarah Kessinger, Harris News Service/Hutchinson News, December 15, 2006

Sunflower Electric has announced plans to purchase part of its future energy supply from a new wind farm to be built in Lincoln and Ellsworth counties.

Officials at the Hays-based electric cooperative said Thursday they had negotiated with TradeWind Energy of Lenexa to buy 50.4 megawatts of power generated by wind towers at the planned Smoky Hills Wind Farm.

The site will be located about 25 miles west of Salina between Ellsworth and Lincoln. Because turbines will sit just north of well-traveled Interstate 70, a Lincoln County official expressed hope they would spur more local tourism.

"As far as I know there's no place else in this part of the country where you could drive by and see 50 wind towers," Bob Crangle, attorney for the Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation, said Thursday.

Despite some area residents' opposition to wind farm development in the scenic Smoky Hills of central Kansas, Crangle said he'd heard plenty of positive local reaction to TradeWind's project, named the Smoky Hills Wind Farm.

Phase one is slated for construction in Lincoln County next year. The entire project is expected to generate 250 megawatts when completed.

"The direct economic impact in 2007 from the construction phase I'm sure will spill over into Ellsworth and Saline counties," Crangle said. "And there will be ongoing revenues to landowners leasing to TradeWind."

Sunflower's purchase of wind-generated electricity would make it a renewable energy leader in the state, the company said.

Earl Watkins, Sunflower president and chief executive officer, said in a press release that they will have a larger portfolio - about 8 percent - dedicated to wind than other Kansas utilities.

Sunflower, which serves cooperatives in much of western Kansas, currently generates 595 megawatts of electricity from coal-fired and natural gas units in Finney County.

The company and other investors also are seeking to build a 2,100-megawatt complex of three more coal-fired power plants in Finney County. The plants have proven controversial, with protests emerging this week from 13 northeastern states seeking to reduce carbon emissions, caused in large part by burning coal.

Crangle said Sunflower's use of clean energy from the Smoky Hills site could help the company.

"It may give them a more favorable environmental image because they'll be using a significant percentage of renewable energy."

TradeWind will make payments in lieu of property taxes to the two counties over several years, Crangle said. Lincoln County commissioners plan to use the money for long-term economic development investments in the county of 3,600 people.

"If used properly, it will help existing and new businesses create jobs and will help create incomes," he said.

Sunflower has signed a 20-year purchase agreement with TradeWind.

Frank Costanza, TradeWind senior vice president, said other participants in the latter phases of the project would be announced soon.

TradeWind is developing projects in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and other Midwestern states, according to the press release.

In 2006, the company signed an equity and strategic alliance agreement with Enel North America, a subsidiary of the Italian energy group Enel S.p.A. The two companies work jointly to develop wind projects in the Midwest.

Sunflower tried earlier to purchase wind-generated power, reaching accord in 2003 with Renewable Energy Systems, a British wind farm developer, for 30 megawatts of power from a planned 100-megawatt wind farm planned near Leoti in Wichita County. But the deal fell apart earlier this year after RES was unable to get turbines to complete the project, said Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller.

Also, if Mid-Kansas Electric Co.'s proposed purchase of Aquila's energy assets in Kansas gains state approval, Mid-Kansas would acquire the contract for another 50-megawatts of wind power generated at the Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma. Mid-Kansas is owned by the same six power cooperatives that own Sunflower.

News reporter Tim Vandenack contributed to this report.


Sunflower to add wind energy

By KRISTEN WAGGENER, The Garden City Telegram, December 14, 2006

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. announced Wednesday its plans to purchase 50.4 megawatts of wind energy from TradeWind Energy, LLC.

The energy will be generated by wind turbines at TradeWind's Smoky Hills Wind Farm, located 25 miles west of Salina, between Ellsworth and Lincoln. The deal is part of a 20-year renewable energy purchase agreement between the two companies.

Scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007, the project would mean Hays-based Sunflower would have a larger portion of its total energy generation dedicated to wind than any other utility in Kansas at nearly 8 percent, according to Sunflower.

"Our board has had a long standing policy of wanting to incorporate wind into our generation portfolio," Steve Miller, Sunflower's director of external affairs, said this morning.

The agreement comes in the midst of a Kansas Department of Health and Environment public comment period for an air quality construction permit request by Sunflower that must be issued before the company can proceed with its plans to build three new 700-MW, coal-fired power plants at its site near Holcomb. The deadline for public comment is Friday.

Many who have opposed the Sunflower expansion project during the public comment period have suggested that the company should be seeking to use other, alternative forms of energy production, including wind turbines, instead of more coal-fired plants.

The wind agreement reached Wednesday shouldn't be mistaken for the company wavering on their expansion plans, however.

Sunflower officials have contended that while wind can be one component for energy production, there isn't enough wind to provide enough electricity for the company's customer base. With that in mind, company officials say coal- and gas-fired production is still needed.

The addition of the wind power, Miller said, will not lead to a rise in energy rates, but rather is aimed at providing a renewable energy option for Sunflower's member systems and avoid the higher-cost fuels like natural gas.

"What really needs to be done to successfully operate a public utility is to have diversity in public utility energy resources," he said.