Editorial: The huge wind boom in Kansas

Source: By Editorial Board, The Topeka Capital-Journal • Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wind is a major economic catalyst and one of the cheapest forms of electricity in the U.S.

In 2011, wind power accounted for 8 percent of the electricity generated in Kansas. By last year, that proportion increased to almost 30 percent. Kansas is the fifth-largest producer of wind energy in the country, and its capacity will increase through 2017. According to a report issued by the American Wind Energy Association, Kansas ranked second in the U.S. in first-quarter wind installations this year — the 200-megawatt Cimarron Bend II and 280-megawatt Western Plains wind farms brought the state’s total capacity to 4,931 megawatts.

Two other major wind installations in southwest Kansas — the 178-megawatt Bloom Wind Farm and 400-megawatt Iron Star wind farm — will probably be completed this year, which would mean a four-fold increase in total wind production in six years. Gov. Sam Brownback wants half of the state’s energy to be produced by renewable resources by the end of his second term, and Kansas has a good chance of achieving that goal. This is tremendous news for energy consumers and workers in our state.

The wind industry has created jobs across multiple sectors of the Kansas economy — from construction and maintenance to manufacturing (there are five wind-related manufacturing facilities in Kansas, including a $50 million Siemens nacelle assembly plant in Hutchinson). AWEA says the number of “direct and indirect jobs supported” by wind was between 5,000 and 6,000 in 2016. Meanwhile, the owners of wind farms pay between $10 million and $15 million every year to lease land for their turbines — money that helps Kansas farmers at a time when our agriculture industry is suffering.

Although wind only generates around 6 percent of the electricity in the U.S., it’s growing faster than any of its competitors. Hannah Hunt is a senior analyst at AWEA, and she points to the significant progress that has already been made by the wind industry this year: “American wind power is getting off to a very strong start in 2017, with the most new capacity since 2009.” AWEA expects overall wind capacity in the U.S. to increase from 84,000 megawatts to 120,000 megawatts over the next four years.

AWEA reports that “total capital investment through 2016” in Kansas wind amounts to $8.4 billion. One of the incentives for the development of wind energy is the federal Production Tax Credit, which provides an inflation-adjusted $23 per megawatt per hour for the first decade that a wind installation is in service. However, the PTC will be phased out by 2020. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, any wind facilities constructed in 2017 will still receive the tax credit, but it will be reduced by 20 percent. For wind facilities completed in 2018 and 2019, the amount will be reduced by 40 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

The federal tax credit has given the wind industry a boost by providing developers with an incentive to build facilities as soon as possible. Still, there are more important factors in the country’s massive spike in wind energy production, such as improved efficiency and surging demand. Even without the tax credit, wind is one of the least expensive sources of energy — the cost has fallen by two-thirds since 2010. There are more than 100,000 Americans working in wind energy, and the industry has generated $140 billion in private investment over the past decade.

These indicators demonstrate that wind power is ascendant in the U.S., and Kansas has taken the lead in harnessing it.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Hosman, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.