school finances and gay marriage. The issue that's had the Kansas
governor's phones ringing is wind power.
has created some stereotype-breaking alliances and pitted landowners
and environmentalists against other landowners and environmentalists.
in the middle is AAPG member and Kansas state geologist Lee Allison.
Allison is chairman of the state's Energy Resources Coordinating
Council, which is being reconstituted as the Kansas Energy Council,
the primary energy planning and policy arm of state government.
of the council's Wind and Prairie Task Force, Allison's job has
been to bring together conservationists, developers, property owners
(such as fellow AAPG member Scott Ritchie of Ritchie Exploration
Inc. of Wichita, firmly in the opposition camp) and others and try
to strike a balance.
recently issued its report and guidelines for developing wind power
in Kansas, which by several measures is No. 1 in the United States
in potential for the industry. While there is plenty of wind and
desire for development in western Kansas, proposals to establish
wind power complexes in the scenic Flint Hills has whipped up a
tornado of contention, Allison said.
Hills run north and south, roughly dividing the eastern third of
the state from the western portion. Because the Permian-age flinty
outcrop was unsuited for farming, it contains the largest tract
of "untilled" tallgrass prairie in the continental United States,
the area a treasure to conservationists and an opportunity for eco-
doesn't mean undeveloped. The region has transmission lines and
capabilities lacking in the western part of the state, and is closer
to urban areas, making it attractive to wind power developers, Allison
split so many communities in so many ways," he added.
environmental groups, the Audubon Society opposed development; the
Sierra club, historically a supporter of wind power, has taken no
stand on the Flint Hills.
A map of
the tallgrass prairie lands by the Nature Conservancy is used by
both sides to support their positions.
are excited at the prospect of leasing their land at approximately
$2,000 per year per turbine. Others, like Ritchie, who has a 20,000-acre
ranch in the Flint Hills, say the installations would foul the scenic
vistas for landowners and tourists.
is presently promoting and enjoying tourism across these areas,"
Ritchie said. "People won't come to ride the prairies under 35-story
wind towers with rotating turbines and blinking lights on top,"
force came up with several recommendations on siting and guidelines
for local governments. It also offered two options for the state
to consider regarding the Flint Hills:
Have the state or regional authorities provide regulations and
standards, enact a one-year moratorium on projects in the Flint
Hills, repeal a tax exemption for wind developers and establish
a seven-mile buffer around the tallgrass prairie as mapped by
the Nature Conservancy.
B: Restructure the tax exemption and prioritize the grassland
into three classes — "no development," "restricted development"
and "allowable in any suitable location."
tend to favor Option B, said Jennifer States, managing director
of JW Wind Power LLC of Lawrence, Kan., a subsidiary of German developer
force was charged with developing a blueprint to encourage development
of the wind power industry in Kansas while protecting environmental
the importance of protecting ecologically significant areas while
allowing rural economic development and meeting Kansas' growing
energy needs," she said. "We can attain balance and we can achieve
ecological concerns, such as impact on prairie chickens, have been
raised, the aesthetic issue is most often heard, States said, adding
that many opponents have second homes in the Flint Hills.
who live and work in the Flint Hills tend to be supporters," she
said, "because the economy is really looking for opportunity for
economic development in rural areas."
estimates 70 to 80 percent of Flint Hills landowners oppose the
"industrial wind complexes."
area has been cut by transmission lines and roads, the view is largely
unspoiled, he said. "There may be one road every three or four miles,
and homes about the same distance.
transmission lines hide behind the hills — on most days you can't
see them," he continued. "The transmission towers are well below
200 feet, so they don't have blinking lights on them. They're not
rotating and they're not on ridge tops. That increases the wind
and the distance from which they (wind turbines) can be seen."
petroleum industry example, Ritchie said "a 20-foot tank battery
is less intrusive" than 70 to more than 100 turbines stretching
over hundreds or thousands of acres.
also said wind power currently requires tax subsidies to be viable,
and added that Kansas exports 22 percent of the power it generates,
"so we're not short of energy.
case is, 'Here's this last bit of native prairie — let's don't
throw it away.' "
to Ritchie, most task force members agree that wind has a role to
play in the state's energy future, but development should take place
where it won't impact the native country as much and where communities
favor the new industry.
and Allison agree that coming to grips with the issue on a statewide
level is a priority. With no state oversight in place, the task
of regulating development falls to local government. The problem
there is that some counties have fairly comprehensive zoning laws,
others have limited zoning and others have none.
the state effort has been a learning experience, Allison said. The
SERCC was established in 2002 by Republican Gov. Bill Graves. Of
the 13 members, three were appointed by right of their positions
— the state ratepayer advocate, chairman of the Corporation Commission
and the state geologist.
said he was a "compromise" as chairman because he represented a
science agency without a stake in any disputes.
was continued under Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who recently
decided to increase the body to 23 members and rename it the Kansas
said he spent a month carefully choosing members for the task force,
and drew complaints from both sides that the membership was "stacked"
in favor of their opponents.
Sebelius' instructions for the task force were clear: Preserve the
grasslands while encouraging wind power in the state.
incentives are significant, he said. A wind installation may represent
a $150 million investment. While the completed project may employ
fewer than 10 full-time workers, other impacts include purchasing
supplies, parts and services locally and taxes or in-lieu-of-tax
payments to local governments, he said.
is emissions free, and the relatively small footprint doesn't decrease
the amount of cropland.
Kansans see it as a major increase of income on their farms," he
said. While ranching remains "marginally profitable, farming is
under lots of pressure … to keep the family operation alive."
the visual aspect, opponents raise concerns about impact on wildlife
and fragmentation of local ecosystems.
have been mentioned, but that can be reduced with proper siting
a design," he said. Spinning turbines also emit a low, throbbing
sound, he said. It isn't an either-or choice, however.
gave very explicit instructions — preserve the prairie and develop
wind potential," Allison said.
the environmental, social and political concerns has been a learning
experience, Allison said. His training as a scientist helped.
is a lot of technical information to bring together and come up
with analysis and options — we're exploring for a solution here,"
he said. "There are a lot of kinds of data that normally don't fit
together. That's what we do in the oil and gas business."