KDWP looking into how wind farms affect wildlife
Hays Daily News, May 13, 2006
Research into the effect wind farms have on wildlife -notably grassland birds such as the prairie chickens - is critical, a state wildlife biologist thinks.
But there are concerns that pristine areas might have to be sacrificed to determine what the effect really is.
"My question is what are the options?" asked Rob Manes, director of conservation for the Nature Conservancy.
Manes in October voiced concern about the state's lack of guidelines for placement of wind farms. His agency, one of the leading conservation groups in the state, contributed a small amount of money to the plan to conduct research.
Most of the money for the research will come from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the National Wind Coordinating Committee, wind farm developers and federal agencies.
The money will be used for Kansas State University researchers Brett Sandercock and Samantha Wisely to conduct the investigation to determine what the effect of wind power development is on prairie chickens.
The research will concentrate on areas in the Flint Hills, in the eastern part of the state. It is prime territory for the greater prairie chicken, a bellwether species for measuring the overall health of grasslands.
The research, part of a four-year study, will measure pre- and post-development effects.
"The research will be conducted in Kansas' Flint Hills on land where wind energy projects are proposed and on control sites where development is not planned," a statement from KDWP reads. "The experimental and control sites are currently undistrubed prairie rangeland."
That is why some observers are somewhat concerned that the effects would only be felt if an area is actually developed.
Failing that development, researchers would drop down to an area near Beaumont in Butler County -what is called the Elk River Wind Power Project - and compare prairie chicken activities in that developed area with a similar area where no wind farm activity is taking place.
That Elk River project is the only one in the Flint Hills that has reached production phase; the rest have been bitterly contested because of aesthetics.
The effect on wildlife has been an unknown.
"The research is very, very needed," said Randy Rodgers, a wildlife biologist at the KDWP office in Hays. "No question about that."
Rodgers has been actively involved in prairie chicken research, specifically involving the reintroduction of lesser prairie chickens in areas of western Kansas.
The research would augment other studies that have shown that prairie chickens avoid manmade structures, in some cases by wide margins.
Exactly what effect a wind farm - with towers several hundred feet tall - has on prairie chicken populations is uncertain.
"So it's very important we find out what effect wind farms have on prairie chickens," Rodgers said.
For Manes, the data does carry a price in terms of development, but it would answer the question of what the effect on prairie chickens would be.
If the results confirm what has been found earlier, it could have significant effects on siting rules that must be followed.
"It's going to be exciting stuff," Manes said.
Managing editor Mike Corn can be reached at (785) 628-1081, ext. 129, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wind farm construction expected to begin this week
By STEVE SMITH, Times Staff Writer, El Dorado Times, May 12, 2005
Construction activities at the site of Butler County's commercial wind energy wind farm project are expected to begin next week.
This week Butler County commissioners gave their approval to a building permit application by Elk River Wind Farm LLC.
They also approved a financial mechanism which will help ensure the presence of funds to cover the costs of any future decommissioning of the project.
Elk River is operating under a special use permit to construct a 100-turbine wind farm project, spread out over 7,968 acres near Latham in southwest Butler County.
Butler County Administrator Will Johnson said PPM Energy (located in Portland, Ore. and now the owner of the project) has now met all the conditions of the conditional use permit required for authorization of the building permit, and has been authorized to mobilize for construction on the site.
He said it is now anticipated PPM will arrive on site the week of May 16 to begin site work and road improvements.
Johnson said plans call for the project (which will include 100 80-meter wind turbine towers) to be completed in October of this year, with full energy production expected to begin in November.
Johnson said the letter of credit commissioners approved this week is a surety mechanism issued through a banking institution.
It will allow the county to access funds for decommissioning during the first 20 years of the life of the project, should a default occur.
There is a 20-year escrow agreement between the county and Elk River, during which money will be placed into that account sufficient to reach a figure of $3 million at the end of 20 years.
Johnson said the permit application approved this week includes all 100 wind turbine towers involved in the project.
He said the $360,000 fee paid for the issuance of the building permit will cover the costs of county staff time, as well as plan review and inspection of the project.
The county has contracted with PEC (Professional Engineering Consultants) Inc. of Wichita for plan review and inspection.
Winds of change
By Wally Kennedy, Globe Staff Writer, The Joplin Globe, July 17, 2005
BEAUMONT, Kan. - Clinton Squier watches another truck rumble down the road in front of his farm, creating a rooster tail of powdery dust that blankets everything.
"Sometimes, they go practically all night. The dust is horrible,'' he said. "They spray water on the road to keep the dust down, but sometimes it's so heavy you can't even see the fence or the road. It's one after another, six days a week. Pretty soon, they're going to start shipping cattle out of here and then you're really going to see some dust.''
That dusty road in front of his farm is not just any road. It is Squier Road. His family has deep roots in the cattle ranches and tallgrass prairies in this part of the Flint Hills. His father, at one time, owned thousands of acres around Beaumont, a cattle town that emerged 100 years ago when the Frisco Railroad laid its track through Butler County.
The big trucks, carrying rebar, concrete and sand, suggest the winds of change are blowing again in Beaumont.
Squier, 84, and his wife, Patricia, along with their daughter, Marce Brewer, have kept their eyes on what's happening three miles down the road.
"I just wonder if it's going to work,'' said Squier. "Nothing like this has ever happened around here before. I hope it makes some money.''
"It could save a lot of ranches," added Patricia.
Four ranchers have leased 8,000 acres of tallgrass prairie to PPM Energy, a U.S. subsidiary of ScottishPower, so that PPM can build the 150-megawatt Elk River Wind farm. The $190 million project involves 100 wind turbines that will be elevated into the air on towers that will be 260 feet tall.
The electricity generated by the wind farm will be purchased by The Empire District Electric Co., in Joplin, Mo. The company has a 20-year contract with PPM. The electricity from the wind farm is enough to meet the annual needs of 42,000 homes, according to the utility.
"I think the wind industry for electricity will prove to be important for all of us even though the electricity is going to Missouri,'' said Marce Brewer, who serves on the Butler County Economic Development Board. "Some of these ranches around Beaumont have been in the same families for a hundred years. This could help them keep their ranches.''
But the project is also generating heat from critics who don't want the wind farm in the middle of one of North America's last remaining large tracts of tallgrass prairie. Environmental, wildlife and prairie-preservation groups have mounted a public relations and legal campaign to stop the project. Two lawsuits, one in state court and one in federal court, also are trying to halt construction.
Despite the lawsuits, work continues on the towers, which will be connected to the grid later this year.
"This project will become the poster child of how not to be good stewards of a tallgrass prairie,'' said Ron Klataske, director of Audubon of Kansas. He said a wind farm in California has chewed up thousands of raptors that have flown into the blades of turbines, but, that's only a part of the concern.
"This wind farm will substantially fragment important habitat for prairie chickens and wildlife. But more importantly, it will cause irreparable damage to the scenic character of the Flint Hills,'' he said.
"They are going to destroy an intact prairie that is twice as large as Prairie State Park in Missouri. A Missouri company would never think of planting 50 or 100 towers in that park, destroying the integrity of that area. It's as if the prairies in Kansas have no value,'' he added.
He said only 4 percent of the tallgrass prairie remains in North America, making it one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America.
Klataske also said the wind farm will pay no property taxes to the school district, the county or the state. Westar Energy, a Kansas-based utility, approached the state Legislature 15 to 20 years ago and asked that renewable energy not be taxed so that it could construct two wind turbines as an experimental project, Klataske explained. The request was granted by the Legislature.
"These projects are primarily built for tax credits,'' he said "There are now scores of proposals to build industrial-scale projects using this exemption. They will not pay property taxes for schools, townships, counties and states. Plus, over the first 10 years, they will receive more than $100 million in federal tax credits.''
Will Johnson, Butler County administrator, said, "There are some mixed feelings toward the development of this project and that includes the county commission board. From a staff standpoint, this project should prove to be an asset for the county. It will create jobs and make money for local landowners who are leasing the site. They are getting a heck of a deal.
"Our take would have been $3.6 million a year to all of the taxing entities in the county,'' he added. "Some members of the commission have disagreed with the full exemption the state has granted them.''
The county is getting nothing from the project other than the repair of the roads that the trucks are tearing up as the project advances.
John Hueston, manager of the project for PPM, said the wind farm is on track for completion in November or December. It started with the building of 22 miles of road to construct and then service the towers.
"Right now, we're pouring the foundations for the towers. That's 750 cubic yards a day. Each foundation has to be able to support 400,000 pounds,'' he said.
The turbines start turning when the wind speed reaches 10 to 12 miles. They are self-regulating in that they seek the best position to capture the wind.
"It'll take a year or two to get the numbers out of it in terms of production,'' he said. "We could recover the costs in seven to 10 years.''
Hueston also said his goal as site manger is to minimize the environmental impact by infusing the project into the landscape so as not interfere with existing land use.
"There are times when the wind is right and all of the rotors are turning at the same speed at the same time. It's an elegant thing,'' he said. "They act independently, but produce as one entity.''
Before coming to Beaumont, Hueston worked on the Klondike Wind farm for PPM at Wasco, Ore. There was not significant opposition to that project, he said, noting that the wind industry is gathering momentum in the United States. Kansas will be a player because it is among the states that have favorable meteorological conditions for wind-to-energy conditions, which is not the case in Missouri, he said.
"You know, Empire was forward thinking about this,'' he said.
Up the road from the wind farm is the 126-year-old Beaumont Hotel, the only money-making business in this town of 63 people. Until the wind farm came along, Beaumont was known for its hotel, which has a grassy airstrip nearby, and the last remaining wooden water tower operated by the Frisco Railroad.
The tower, which was placed on the National Register of Historic places in 1993, provided water for the steam locomotives that brought cattle to the Flint Hills to be pastured.
"The railroad would bring 3,000 cattle at a time to the stockyards here. Beaumont had a population of 1,500 people then. The men would come up on horseback and drive the cattle to the pastures,'' she said. "That stopped when the cattle trucks arrived in 1957, and the railroad abandoned the line.''
Today, pilots from Wichita - which is 45 miles west of Beaumont - fly in and taxi their planes on the streets in the town to park next to the hotel.
"Last weekend, we had 60 aircraft here and about 100 looky-looks,'' said Jenny Rodrigues, manager of the Beaumont Hotel. "The wind farm, we hope, could become a tourist attraction for us.''
The wind farm is keeping Rodrigues busy. Three times a week she delivers 75 to 100 lunches to the workers at the site.
"But, it has been polarizing," she said. "Locally, for the most part, people feel this is private land and that they should let the private owners do what the want with the land. It's part of the Kansas homesteading state of mind,'' she said.
Rodrigues said 80 percent of the local residents support the project because it benefits local property owners. She said 5 percent support it simply because its renewable energy.
"The other 15 percent that are opposed are people who are not even from here. They oppose it because it is on the edge of the Flint Hills, the last of what America used to be. And, it's being built for your fair town of Joplin. Some people question why they should build a wind farm in this state to sell electricity to another state - let Missouri build their own wind farms.''
Wind farm makes progress
By STEVE SMITH, El Dorado Times, August 15, 2005
BEAUMONT - What has been a controversial project in southeast Butler County is starting to take form.
Construction activities associated with a commercial wind energy "wind farm" project which cleared its final hurdle with Butler County commissioners a little more than four months ago began May 16.
All 100 foundations for the wind turbine towers of Elk River Wind Farm LLC, now owned by Oregon-based PPM Energy, have been dug and poured.
As of early Wednesday afternoon 16 towers had either been completed or were nearing completion.
John Hueston, who is PPM Energy site manager and project construction manager for Elk River, said three of the towers had been stacked completely vertically, with the other 13 having just the first two sections in place.
When assembly of the towers has been completed, he said, they themselves will reach a final height of 80 meters, or about 240 feet.
Once the towers have been completely assembled, Hueston said, they will be topped off with nacelles which contain the gearboxes and generators for the wind turbines.
As of early Wednesday afternoon two of the nacelles had been placed on top of turbine towers.
Hueston said wind power which is captured will be transferred into a rotor going into the gearbox.
He said the low speed of the wind rotor is increased in the gearbox to a workable speed of about 1,200 RPMs on the generator.
Each of the turbine towers is placed over a control unit; adjacent to the towers are transformers.
Today, Hueston said, the first blades for the rotor portion of the wind turbines were scheduled to come into the project site.
When the blades are attached to a hub cone section, he said, that will form the rotor.
"Once we get all the pieces together and all the wires connected," Hueston said, "we reach a phase called 'mechanically complete.' "
Sometime this coming week, he said, it is anticipated the first wind tower unit will reach that phase.
Once a unit is mechanically complete, he said, it will move into commissioning. General Electric will be providing the technicians for that phase, he said.
By around Nov. 15, Hueston said, all 100 towers in the total Elk River project should be operational and have the blades turning on them.
With the exception of some towers (which were manufactured in Korea) and all the blades (which were made in Brazil), Hueston said, "all the components we are using in our turbines here are manufactured in the United States."
With this year's boom in the wind business and with the passage of the federal energy bill, he said, "there is a production crunch in getting blades," and those have had to come from outside the U.S.
Pete Ferrell is one of the landowners on whose property the wind farm will be constructed.
He takes some visitors to one of the most recently dug and poured wind turbine foundation sites, then offers to show them another site which has been reclaimed.
When all the ground excavated for the foundation has been put back in place, he said, all that will be visible of the foundation is a 15-foot-diameter concrete ring, with the bolts to which the tower will be attached protruding from the ground.
What is also particularly important to him, he said, is that the ground will be replanted all the way back to the ring - meaning his cattle will be able to graze right up to it.
There won't even need to be any fencing along the roads which have been created in order to service the wind towers, Ferrell said, meaning his cattle will be free to roam the pasture from one side of the roads to the other.
Also, he said, with these service roads he can quit using other roads which over the years have been driven through his pastures, and let them go back to grass.
Also, he said, all the cabling extending from each of the turbine towers will be buried underground.
What is also important about that, he said, is it will occur in land which has lready been disturbed along the service roadways and not create a new land disturbance.
Taking into account the foundations and the service roads for the wind turbine towers, Ferrell says, he will be minus about one acre of pastureland per turbine.
That, he says, is the same scenario he would be dealing with if it were oil wells and not wind turbines which were dotting his land.
What puzzles him, Ferrell remarked at one point, is how people can be opposed to a wind turbine tower pointing up into the sky taking the wind and turning it into energy, and not seem to be bothered when an oil well will need to be dug thousands of feet into the ground in order to bring oil out.
Butler County commissioner Randy Doll of Andover has consistently voted against wind farm projects in Butler County - and those are votes he says he continues to stand by.
"Wind farms and commercial wind projects in the Flinthills region of Butler County or Kansas are simply a bad idea," he remarked.
He called those kinds of projects "a degradation of one of the most unique ecosystems in the country."
After all, Doll remarked, "we wouldn't go and stick them in the ground in Yellowstone Park - or in the ground in any of those areas which have been determined to be special."
Those, he said, are areas "we need to take care of and not ruin and degrade."
Doll said he understands the private ownership of land which exists in the Flinthills region, particularly in Butler County.
"It's still a unique ecosystem," he said - one which only about 3 percent of the total original area now remains.
"A big chunk" of that 3 percent happens to be in Butler County, he said, and the idea should be to practice good land stewardship and "resolve to try to preserve that.
"Commercial wind farms are simply not a good situation for the Flinthills region," he said.
Doll said he also believes the Elk River project violates Butler County's comprehensive plan.
That plan, he said, is comprised of the views Butler County residents expressed in survey responses.
Doll said "the overriding desire" of Butler County residents, as expressed through the comprehensive plan, is the preservation of the agricultural heritage of the Flinthills region.
Doll said the Elk River project is a "total violation" of the county's comprehensive plan and "goes completely against the grain of what the people want" to see done through the plan.
Wind farm project nears completion
By STEVE SMITH, El Dorado Times, November 8, 2005
BEAUMONT - Turbines are starting to spin in southeast Butler County as a commercial wind energy wind farm project approaches the point at which electricity will begin to be sent out into its power grid destination.
A total of 100 turbines are involved in the Elk River Wind Farm LLC project, located just south of Beaumont.
John Hueston, site manager for PPM Energy of Portland, Ore., a ScottishPower company and now owner of the wind farm, said all 100 of the wind turbines are now in place and fully equipped with nacelles and turbine blades.
He said the process now being gone through at Elk River involves getting the wind turbines on line and commissioned.
As of late last Friday afternoon, he said, 54 of the towers had been commissioned, with four teams at work getting them commissioned at the rate of about three or four a day.
By mid-November, he said, it is expected all 100 towers will have been commissioned.
Hueston said the commissioning process involves setting up computers in each of the wind turbines so that each one is tied into the wind farm network.
There are also pre-electrical energization checks now taking place, he said, and safety functions in each tower - such as over-speed trips and electrical interface safety features which will prevent the turbines from damaging any internal components - are also being examined.
Once all of the turbines have been fully commissioned, Hueston said, Elk River will be at a point at which electricity can be sent from the turbines to a step-up transformer located in an on-site substation Elk River built for the project at the south end of the wind farm.
Elk River built the substation, he said, and then turned it over to Westar Energy.
From the substation, Hueston said, electricity will be sent out into a power grid to serve customers of Empire Electric of Joplin, Mo., with whom Elk River has signed a power purchase agreement.
Empire Electric provides power to customers in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, as well as in the southeast corner of Kansas right across from the Kansas-Missouri border.
It was in January of 2003 that the Butler County Commission gave its approval to the conditional use permit for the Elk River project.
While he voted for the Elk River project, said commission chairman Mike Wheeler of El Dorado, he is not generally in favor of locating wind farms in Butler County and in the Flinthills.
"This seemed like the right place, the right time and the right site," he said, "and I think we picked a good company to go with."
Commissioners have made several inspection trips to the wind farm, Wheeler said.
The fact that the project was started in mid-May of this year and is now scheduled to be completed in mid-November "speaks well of them," he remarked of Elk River.
"We've been all over the job site," he said, "and it's a well-organized and well-run operation.
"Driving around the job site," he said, "you can tell everything is clean, neat and well organized.
"It's a first-class project."
With only one other wind farm now operating in Kansas (near Montezuma in Gray County) and others in the drawing board stage, Wheeler said Butler County officials believe this county is in a position to be a leader in Kansas in terms of wind farm development.
The guidelines Butler commissioners have established for wind farms are "very strict and stringent," he said, "and we believe other counties are looking to our guidelines for any future siting of projects."
He added "I think the guidelines we've established are so strict" that Elk River "could very well be the only wind farm project we ever see in Butler County."
Wheeler said Elk River has been "head and shoulders above" all the other companies that have made proposals to establish wind farms in Butler County.
When commissioners voted on the Elk River project, he said, "we made a decision on the right people to be involved with."
"They've done everything they ever said they were going to do," he said, "and have put up a first-class project."
Wheeler said Elk River has "worked with the county very well," adding while it might seem to some the county's guidelines are onerous they (Elk River) have taken them in stride, gone down the road and worked with the county.
"They've fulfilled all the guidelines and requirements I'm aware of."
Fears for the Flint Hills
"It's the last of an ecosystem," says Larry Patton. "Why would we want to industrialize an ecosystem?"
It has been estimated perhaps only about 3 percent of North America's ancient Tallgrass Prairie remains intact.
Much of that territory is in the Kansas Flint Hills.
Patton, of rural El Dorado, is president of Protect the Flint Hills, an organization which has taken a stand against the Elk River project.
Patton said Protect the Flint Hills has an e-mail list of 200 to 300 people.
Protect the Flint Hills has the mission statement of expressing its concern regarding the impact of industrial wind development in the Kansas Flint Hills. "Our mission is to protect the wide-open spaces of the Flint Hills, the last significant expanse of tallgrass prairie on the continent," according to the mission statement. "While we are in favor of renewable alternative energy," the organization has stated, "we strongly oppose placing industrial wind energy complexes in the Flint Hills.
"The Flint Hills are not a renewable resource. They are a one-of-a-kind landscape."
As an alternative, suggests Protect the Flint Hills, "we support siting wind turbines on land that has already been disturbed by farming or other development - land outside of the Flint Hills and outside the viewshed of the Flint Hills."
"Commercial wind energy in the Flint Hills is opposed by a broad spectrum of community leaders, including ranchers, small business owners and conservationists," Patton said, adding "wind power developments need to be placed in appropriate areas and kept out of inappropriate areas.
"The Kansas Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie is an endangered ecosystem and is obviously not an appropriate area for industrial wind energy development."
Patton said the state has delegated the siting of industrial wind turbines to the counties.
"Some of the counties believe this is a federal issue," he said. "The federal government has delegated the issue to the state.
"Federal tax incentives drive the development of commercial wind energy," Patton said.
"Therefore it is appropriate there be federal siting requirements.
"If taxpayer money is going to help create the business," he said, "then taxpayers should have a say in how that business impacts their communities.
"The Kansas Flint Hills are a treasure which must be preserved," Patton said.
"Each year the number of people visiting the Flint Hills increases significantly as Kansans and out-of-state tourists recognize the beauty, uniqueness and value of the Flint Hills region.
"The Flint Hills are being threatened by industrialization," Patton said.
"Wind energy developers from around the world hope to cash in on generous government tax credits," he said, "by constructing hundreds of giant wind turbines throughout the Flint Hills (including along the Kansas Highway 177 Scenic Byway) that would tower 400 feet above the prairie."
Patton said that comes "in spite of efforts by Gov. Sebelius to keep industrial wind turbines out of the Flint Hills region and in spite of position statements made by many nature-based organizations."
Those, he said, include the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks; Kansas Natural Resources Council; Audubon of Kansas; Kansas Scenic Byways; National Wildlife Federation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Nature Conservancy; and the Wildlife Management Institute.
"Developers continue to target the endangered Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem for industrial wind energy production facilities," Patton said.
Wind farm reaches commercial status
By STEVE SMITH, El Dorado Times, December 20, 2005
BEAUMONT - Butler County's commercial wind energy "wind farm" project is coming up on a one-week anniversary - an anniversary which is two weeks ahead of schedule.
On Dec. 15 the Elk River Wind Farm LLC project just south of Beaumont went into formal commercial operation status.
John Hueston, site manager for Portland, Ore.-based PPM Energy, owner of the project, said the Dec. 15 date is two weeks ahead of the original Dec. 29 date at which the project was scheduled to reach commercial status.
Hueston said commercial operation status means PPM is in conformance with all the contractual requirements it must meet with its customer, and that all 100 turbines in the project are capable of producing and delivering electrical power expected to be generated at the various wind speeds on a "power curve."
At full capacity, Hueston said, the Elk River Wind Farm will produce 1.5 megawatts of electrical power per turbine per hour.
He said full turbine capacity is reached at wind speeds of about 26-27 miles per hour.
Final completion date for the entire project was Nov. 29, he said, with the project actually starting to send out electricity on Oct. 27.
The project's turbines were working on a test basis through most of November, he added.
The first on-line unit was on Oct. 14, with all units on line Nov. 15.
"Operations have actually been going along quite well," Hueston said of how Elk River has been operating.
As of last Friday, he said, only one of the 100 turbines in the project was not turning.
However, he said, that was the result of a component - not a turbine - failure, and a replacement part was enroute.
Currently, Hueston said, General Electric is employing 10 people to work on the Elk River project to perform both preventive and corrective maintenance.
GE manufactured the controller and transformer units for the turbine towers in the project.
General Electric Wind Energy of Tehachapi, Calif. was the turbine provider for the project.
At their business meeting last Monday night Butler County commissioners received a report from Professional Engineering Consultants P.A., the Wichita firm that performed inspection services for the project.
The scope of PEC's inspection work included monitoring construction of the project to verify:
Access roads were built according to plans and specifications.
Foundation excavations were to the correct line and grade.
Reinforcing steel was the correct size and grade and installed in accordance with plans and specifications.
Foundation concrete was the correct type and placed and vibrated properly.
Adequate quality tests were performed.
County roads were repaired and maintained by the contractor as necessary due to heavy construction traffic.
Some project statistics presented by PEC at last Monday night's meeting included:
Sixteen miles of access roads required 41,065 cubic yards of locally crushed aggregate.
There were 26,700 cubic yards of concrete for the 100 turbine foundations.
Each turbine footing required 45,000 pounds of reinforcing steel.
The electrical contractor for the project installed 40 miles of high voltage insulated underground cable, fiber-optic communications lines and copper grounding wire.
Nine-hundred large and/or oversized truckloads of turbine towers were delivered to the job site.
There was only one accident, which occurred during the Elk River construction project, commissioners were told.
That occurred when a huge crane being used to lift the upper sections of the turbine towers into place toppled when its weight was too great for a soft spot in the ground into which it had rolled.
There were no injuries in that accident.
With the amount of inquiry Butler County has received about how it has been handling wind farm projects, Butler County Administrator Will Johnson said at last Monday night's meeting, this county has “raised the bar nationally” for such projects.
Wind farm money plan
By STEVE SMITH, El Dorado Times, July 3, 2006
Butler County commissioners have given their approval to a resolution outlining how funds the county will be receiving through an annual gift from the owners of the county's wind farm project will be used.
Oregon-based PPM Energy is the owner of Elk River Wind Farm LLC, located just south of Beaumont.
The county will be receiving a $150,000 annual gift from the windfarm.
Over the course of 14 years the county will be receiving a total of 15 payments of $150,000 each in gifts.
Under terms of the resolution commissioners passed this week proceeds from the gift payments will be "utilized equally for community projects, economic development projects” and the county's general fund reserve.
Funds "shall be divided annually in equal amounts," according to the resolution, "whereas one-third will be utilized for community projects, one-third for economic development projects and one-third for general fund reserves."
Net proceeds from the gift payments will be deposited into a fund earmarked for wind farm proceeds.
On an annual basis, those monies will be transferred from that fund into the county's special revenue fund for economic development and into the county's general reserve fund.
Also annually, approximately $50,000 will remain in the wind farm fund, with that money to be used for community projects.
Under terms of the resolution, "those funds deposited in the special revenue fund for economic development shall be used only for purposes associated with the development of property, economic development incentives and projects associated with the advancement of economic development projects in Butler County."
Funds deposited in the county's general reserve fund will be utilized for "general governmental purposes" as designated by the Butler County Commission.
Under terms of the resolution, funds remaining in the wind farm fund will be used for community projects approved by county commissioners.
On an annual basis, applications for funding of community projects will be made to commissioners, with funding decisions to be made “based on merit, need and priority."
Projects approved "should benefit a broad base of the county residents or a specific community project as designated by the county commission," according to the resolution, which also states funds "will be utilized only for specific projects and will not be utilized for appropriations to agencies or groups for operational support."
The resolution also provides "funds should be utilized for projects where all other resources have been exhausted."
Wind farm funds
By STEVE SMITH, El Dorado Times, October 25, 2006
Butler County commissioners gave their consensus approval Monday morning to a resolution authorizing a policy for applying funds derived from the county's commercial wind energy wind farm facility toward community projects.
Monday's resolution states the county commission's policy for purposes of funding projects will be to "ensure future equity is given to each and every agency in Butler County concerning funding."
On an annual basis the county will be receiving a $150,000 contribution from Oregon-based PPM Energy, owner of the Elk River Wind Farm LLC project near Beaumont.
According to the resolution commissioners voiced their support for Monday morning, applications for funding of community projects will be made annually to commissioners.
Those will need to be submitted to the office of the Butler County administrator by Nov. 1, with the administrator to arrange times and dates for agencies to make presentations to county commissioners.
Funding decisions will be made "based on merit, need and priority," according to the resolution, and “projects should benefit a broad base of the county residents or a specific community project as designated by the county commission."
Other provisions of the resolution include:
- Funding will not exceed 50 percent of the proposed project
- Agencies will provide information stating all other funding sources have been explored and exhausted.
- Funds will not be used for operational support
- In their formal presentations agencies will include cost estimates and preliminary design drawings, if that is applicable. They will also provide proof of a secured funding source on or before Nov. 1 annually
- Agencies not awarded funding will be allowed to resubmit their applications in the future.
Commissioner Will Carpenter of El Dorado said he wanted the county's policy regarding distribution of the wind farm funds would not be so restrictive as to exclude "worthwhile" projects commissioners had not yet heard of or thought about.
Commissioner Randy Waldorf of Augusta said he thought the policy expressed in the resolution was "open ended enough" to be sufficiently inclusive.
What the wind blew in
State's largest farm of its kind reduces energy costs
By Dianne Lawson, Topeka Capital-Journal, Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The 150-megawatt project covers 8,000 acres and has 100 wind turbines near Beaumont in Butler County, 50 miles east of Wichita. The project was 11 years in the making, took six months to install and used up to 200 workers at a time during construction.
One-half of the project is on Pete Ferrell's cattle ranch.
"Ranching isn't easy, and the project is a secondary income stream," Ferrell said. "I believe in the merits of the project. It doesn't use any water, and it doesn't emit toxins."
Ferrell lives on Ferrell Road with his 94-year-old mother, Isabelle. His great-grandfather started the ranch in 1888.
Ferrell said his grandfather survived the Dustbowl in the 1930s when he used windmills to pump water. In the 1940s, the ranch houses and outbuildings were powered by a domestic electrical turbine generated by wind power.
Wind turbines and wind farms give some farmers and ranchers another option for how best to use their land.
"Harnessing the wind's energy is part of my family tradition," he said.
In 1994, Oxbow Power Corp., a Fortune 500 company, approached Ferrell about placing a wind farm on his ranch. Ferrell said he was concerned about how the operation might affect his ranch and the landscape. The company, at its expense, flew Ferrell to see other wind farms around the country.
In 1995, Ferrell started working with Oxbow Power Corp. to develop a wind farm. The project was led by Dr. Gary Johnson, a former Kansas State University professor in electrical engineering who took an early retirement to devote himself to the exploration of wind power in Kansas.
Johnson reminded Ferrell that Kansas is named after the Kansa Indian tribe, who called themselves "People of the South Wind."
Oxbow left the project for reasons unrelated to the site, and Ferrell later signed with Greenlight Energy. An extensive public hearing process and some controversy then took place.
"The Sierra Club supported me and The Nature Conservancy was against me," Ferrell said. "Property rights folks supported me."
After six months of comments from the public, a permit was granted in January 2003 to start construction of the Elk River Wind Farm LLC. In December 2004, Greenlight Energy sold the project to Pacificorp Power Management.
The project broke ground on May 16, 2005, and was completed that fall. One hundred wind turbines, each with a 262-foot tower and three 125-foot propellers, were constructed.
Ferrell said he always has been concerned about the effects the project might have on the land and animals. He said cattle and deer don't seem to care about the presence of the windmills.
"The cows line up in the shade of a tower. It's a cow sundial," he said. "We cannot see any significant impact on animals."
Ferrell said he believes Kansas could help this country wean itself from nonrenewable forms of energy, such as oil and coal. He believes that our dependence on foreign oil is a cause of problems in the world, and that he can, in good conscience, support having a wind farm on his land.
"We have incredible resources here," Ferrell said. "Why is wind being shut down and coal being promoted?"
Dianne Y. Lawson is a freelance writer in Topeka. She can be reached at Cappie0113 (at) aol.com.