Kansas Wind Hits a Snag

Ellsworth County rancher Jim Warta talks about the 11 wind turbines that populate his pastures, he’s a big proponent of wind energy. Image: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle

Wind energy deployment hit a snag in Kansas after a group of landowners from the central and eastern part of the state signed a petition to stop the turbines citing decreased property value and negative health effects as their reason for not wanting the project. As the Wichita Eagle reported, “after Florida-based NextEra announced plans to build more than 80 turbines, residents revolted. They launched a months-long campaign to pressure the company and county leaders to either force turbines further from their land or call off the project.”

It Worked: The landowners signed a protest petition requiring unanimous approval–and while a majority of commissioners supported the project, one voted no which blocked the entire project. This was the first time a major wind farm had been rejected in Kansas in a decade.

A Setback:
The Wichita Eagle also noted that the growing resistance comes after Kansas established its reputation as a major player in wind energy. No other state gets more of its electricity from wind than Kansas, at 36 percent. It also ranks among the top five states for total wind energy generation. It’s currently unclear if NextEra will abandon the project or work to challenge the vote.

Current Energy Mix:
Kansas currently gets most of its energy from coal and natural gas, for a state with such immense potential for wind energy it’s a shame not to capitalize on the jobs and reduced energy costs that come with an expanded wind industry.

Kansas’ Windy History: Wind development really took off in Kansas in the wake of a fight over a planned coal power plant. After Kansas blocked a proposed coal plant in Holcomb over pollution concerns, lawmakers compromised in 2009 by requiring utility companies to draw 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. In exchange, they left open the possibility of a smaller coal plant, though it’s never been built. Developers constructed 15 wind farms between 2009 and 2013. The total electric capacity of Kansas wind farms doubled.
Why This Matters: Kansas is in line for a huge increase in wind energy development after a proposed long-distance transmission line–known as the Grain Belt Express— recently cleared a major regulatory hurdle in Missouri. This means that there’s an opportunity not just for new jobs but to move away from fossil fuels that are causing climate change and posing real threats to human health. Clearly, there’s a need for better engagement and education between the wind industry and Kansas landowners as there’s very little evidence to prove that wind turbines negatively affects human health or property values.


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