The value of Kansas wind energy

Being a windy state comes with an increased risk of prairie fires and downed power lines. But the natural resource’s abundance has its advantages as well, with the planned Cimarron Bend wind farm and nine other pending projects newly demonstrating how such clean energy can answer market demand while helping out Kansas’ economy.

When the 200-turbine, $610 million Cimarron Bend facility goes online early next year in Clark County, south of Dodge City, Italy-based Enel Green Power North America will have five wind farms in Kansas, adding to its operating capacity of nearly 1 gigawatt in the state. The new wind farm’s 400 megawatts already are spoken for, with tech giant Google and the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities each planning to buy 200 megawatts under long-term agreements.

Enel Green Power North America touts the wind farm’s promise of “providing enough energy to meet the annual consumption needs of more than 149,000 U.S. households, while avoiding the emission of around 1.3 million” metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. It will create 350 construction jobs. And “the project is financed through the Enel Group’s own resources,” the company said — though the low cost of its power is subsidized in part by federal renewable energy tax credits, which Congress recently renewed for another five years.

“It’s going to be one of the lowest-cost energy resources that we have in our generation mix,” Kansas City BPU general manager Don Gray said at Topeka’s announcement with Gov. Sam Brownback.

That affordability doesn’t square with one of the arguments that prevailed in the 2015 Legislature, which made a nonbinding goal of the state’s 2009 mandate that utility companies receive 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

Most of the state’s utilities already had reached the 20 percent threshold, though, and the 2015 compromise at least ended the annual legislative skirmishes over the renewable mandate and helped establish what Brownback last week called a “stable atmosphere” for the wind industry.

Wind energy represents more than 23 percent of electricity produced in the state and a total investment of about $10 billion. About 45 percent of the power is exported.

In 2015 Kansas lagged only Iowa (31.3 percent) and South Dakota (25.5 percent) for wind’s share of electricity generation.

As Brownback said, the Cimarron Bend project “solidifies our position as a leader in wind energy development in the nation. It’s good for the Kansas economy as it will create jobs and opportunities.”

— The Wichita Eagle