This is long, but important. It gives you another viewpoint about the Smoky Hills Wind Farm to be constructed eight miles north of Ellsworth, on the Ellsworth-Lincoln County line. If you favor this proposal, perhaps you could benefit from reading the following. If you oppose this construction, there are things you can do to help. They follow:
An Ecological Crisis: The Most Scenic and a Major Part of an Intact Prairie Landscape in the Smoky Hills Will Be Eviscerated if this Massive Project Proceeds. It Threatens to Consume a Sixteen Mile by Four Mile Wide Landscape Out of the Heart of the Smoky Hills, and Tower Over Much of the Surrounding “Post Rock” Countryside.
Sadly, Advocacy by Well Intentioned Folks Inadvertently Pushed More Than 20,000 Acres into a Foreign Developer’s Grip. The Company Will Reap Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Worth of Federal Tax Credits, Pay No Local or State Taxes, Will Not Honor Siting Standards (or even “Guidelines”) and Will Have No Accountability for Environmental Damage.
Maybe, just maybe, if enough Kansans send letters, e-mails or make calls to three entities, the unnecessary assault on this, and other irreplaceable prairie landscapes, can be averted. First, a bit of background followed by what we can all do.
A speculator with questionable credentials leased land in the most impressive Kansas landscape visible from I-70 between Junction City and Colorado for an industrial windpower development that would consist of hundreds of huge turbines, roads and powerlines. It was obvious that the company couldn’t build a project. It was then sold to another company, Tradewind Energy LLC–founded and owned primarily by former utility executives and power project developers–followed by acquisition by Enel SpA. Enel is Italy’s largest power company and is building projects in central and South America.
Enel has 500 megawatts of installed wind capacity worldwide and the proposed Kansas Smoky Hills Wind Project will boost that by 50 percent–with the proposed 250 MW development. The State of Kansas has left the state as vulnerable as a third world country to ill advised and destructive developments by foreign and domestic speculators. Counties (including Ellsworth and Lincoln) that have no zoning or comprehensive plan leave neighboring landowners and other residents without any voice in the decisions that dramatically impact their homes and lands.
For the past four years we (and others) have pointed out that the State of Kansas has abdicated its authority to protect resources of statewide importance. Nothing has materially changed that sad situation statewide.
The notable exception to this has been Governor Sebelius’ policy of promoting appreciation for the Tallgrass Prairie region of the Flint Hills, specifically the area outlined within the “Heart of the Flint Hills,” an area of impressive natural and pastoral landscapes. The governor has also provided leadership support and resources to build appreciation and the tourism potential of the Flint Hills. The “Heart of the Flint Hills” designation resulted from the governor’s leadership in establishing the Wind and Prairie Task Force which gathered and published excellent information relative to the region. Unfortunately, the ecological importance of the state’s other unique prairies was left like an abandoned puppy along the road without any plan for recognition by the Subcabinet Committee acting on the recommendations of the Task Force.
That left extensive prairie landscapes of equal ecological significance north and south in the Flint Hills and in the Smoky Hills subject to negligence, as if they don’t exist. The Secretary of Kansas Wildlife and
Parks prepared and published an excellent position paper which serves as siting guidelines for industrial windpower development projects, but they are not siting “standards” and they have been totally ignored by developers who have no stake in preserving the most precious elements of the Kansas prairie landscape. That obviously includes Tradewinds and Enel. Likewise, the siting guidelines developed by the Kansas Renewable Energy Working Group are equally ignored–even though a Tradewinds representative was involved in the committee that developed that consensus paper.
The shining example of corporate citizenship and responsibility was demonstrated by Kansas City Power and Light officials who consulted with conservation organizations and landowners in an inclusive process, and then made the best choice to build on an already cultivated landscape near Spearville.
Meanwhile Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. of Colorado and Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, a public utility headquartered in Hays, have been proposing new coal-fired power plant construction near Holcomb, Kansas. At public hearings before KDHE in Topeka and Lawrence a long list of opponents called on Sunflower to build “wind farms” as an alternative–even though windpower developments will not reduce the demand for generation capacity from coal or natural gas. However, as a result of that and pressure from KDHE, the Governor and/or the Energy Council, Sunflower felt compelled to quickly sign on to a wind power project to provide PR and political cover. The financial and purchasing structure of a company with a far more appropriate site in western Kansas was not in place, so the first (lowest bidder) straw available was taken. As a publicly regulated utility, current rules imposed by the Kansas Corporation Commission reportedly did not allow Sunflower to consider environmental aspects of the project and other considerations of value to the public and state.
Here are several things that each of us can do:
(1) Contact Governor Kathleen Sebelius: (1-877-579-6757 or http://www.governor.ks.gov/comments/comment.htm ) and encourage her to do everything possible to protect intact prairie landscapes in Kansas (both in the Flint Hills and the Smoky Hills), work with the three Kansas Corporation Commission members to give public utilities the right to consider ecological and siting consequences of wind projects, and urge the legislature to enact siting standards.
(2) Contact Your State Legislators: Urge your State Representative and Senator to sponsor and support legislation to establish industrial windpower development siting standards–similar to bills introduced in both the House and the Senate this past session. Find your Kansas state representative and senator at: http://www.kslegislature.org/legsrv-legisportal/redistricting.do
(3) Contact the President and CEO of Sunflower: Urge Earl Watkins to find a more appropriate alternative site for development of wind power in western Kansas. There are scores of suitable sites on millions of acres of already cultivated landscapes with wind class of 6 and higher. The phone is 785-628-2845 and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audubon of Kansas
210 Southwind Place
Manhattan KS 66503