Kansas has strong construction activity for wind farms this year

Source: By Megan Hart, Topeka Capital Journal • Posted: Monday, August 10, 2015

Kansas had the third-highest amount of wind power capacity under construction in the country in the second quarter, with buyers including in-state utilities and an internet search company.

There were 1,070.75 megawatts of wind power capacity under construction in Kansas as of the second quarter of 2015, according to the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade association. That will add to the state’s 2,967 megawatts in existing capacity, the ninth highest in the country.

Texas was leading by a wide margin, with 6,804.87 megawatts under construction, followed by Oklahoma, with 1,445.3 megawatts. Iowa and North Dakota also were hot spots for wind power so far this year.

Nationwide, 1,014 turbines have been installed this year, bringing the total capacity from new and existing farms to 67,870 megawatts, according to AWEA’s calculations. Another 13,600 megawatts of capacity are under construction, with varying dates when the farms are expected to come online.

While that is a significant increase compared with the same period of 2014, it makes up only a sliver of the total electricity generated in the United States. In May, the country generated about 321.9 million megawatt-hours of electricity, with coal and natural gas roughly tied as the largest fuel sources. Renewable energy sources produced about 26.3 million megawatt-hours combined.

Most of the wind buyers in Kansas were electrical companies, with the exception of search engine Yahoo, which agreed to buy 23.3 megawatts from a 48.3-megawatt farm. Chris Page, global director of energy and sustainability strategy for Yahoo, said the energy from its investment will feed into the larger grid, effectively offsetting what its operations in the central states use. Yahoo’s closest data center is in Nebraska.

“Although we are a global company, we are deeply invested in the communities in which we live and work,” the statement said. “We are proud to support this type of community-centric energy project through direct engagements from mid-sized local wind farms.”

Wind farms primarily serving a company that isn’t involved in electric generation are showing up more often. IKEA is purchasing from a 98-megawatt farm in Illinois and Mars bought into a 211-megawatt farm in Texas. It isn’t clear whether those companies use the full capacity or have agreements to sell a share to third parties.

Mark Chesney, CEO and general manager of the Kansas Power Pool, said KPP has a contract for 25 megawatts from a larger farm near Greensburg. The Kansas renewable portfolio standard didn’t apply to the small municipal utilities that make up KPP, he said, but after the new farm is online, about 20 percent of its energy will come from wind or hydroelectric power. The standard was made voluntary this year due to legislative revisions.

Chesney said he couldn’t discuss the cost per megawatt-hour from the Greensburg wind farm. Construction will start in January.

“We like to have renewables in the portfolio where it makes economic sense, and this certainly does,” he said. “This price comes much closer to the market price for energy.”

Kansas City Power and Light, which agreed to purchase 350 megawatts from two wind farms that are under construction in Coffey and Sumner counties, released a statement saying the move would benefit its customers over the course of the 20-year agreements and help it to meet new Environmental Protection Agency requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Once the wind farms are online, its wind energy portfolio will have a capacity of 889 megawatts.

“While wind turbines cannot replace base-load generation, like KCP&L’s larger power plants, these wind turbines can be a cheaper option to supplement that base-load generation than purchasing power from other sources,” the statement said. “Additionally, both wind projects will qualify for the federal Production Tax Credit, which allows KCP&L to pass savings along to customers.”