Kansas increasingly turning wind into gold

Source: By Dan Voorhis, Wichita Eagle • Posted: Friday, May 5, 2017

The Western Plains 280-megawatt wind farm in Ford County began full operation in March. Westar will own and operate the wind farm, which Infinity Wind developed and Mortenson Construction built.
The Western Plains 280-megawatt wind farm in Ford County began full operation in March. Westar will own and operate the wind farm, which Infinity Wind developed and Mortenson Construction built. Courtesy/Westar Courtesy of Westar

Kansas wind power continues to grow, analysts say.

The state will reach 5,000 megawatts of wind power generation capacity this year, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s first-quarter report.

Only Texas, Oklahoma, California and Iowa produce more.

In the first three months of 2017, two wind farms — the 200-megawatt Cimarron Bend II wind farm in Clark County and the 280-megawatt Western Plains wind farm in Ford County — came on line. That brings Kansas to 4,931 megawatts of generation capacity, according to AWEA.

The 178-megawatt Bloom Wind Farm south of Dodge City in Ford and Clark counties is under construction. The 400-megawatt Iron Star wind farm near Dodge City is in advanced development and likely will be built this year.

That would mean a quadrupling of the amount of wind generation in the state in just six years. AWEA calculates the total investment in Kansas at $8.4 billion.

Nationally, the outlook for more wind power construction remains strong through 2020, according to a study by analyst Navigant for AWEA. The study projects that the existing 84,000 megawatts of wind power will grow to about 120,000 megawatts in the next four years.

Although wind is the fastest growing source of new electricity generation in the United States, it currently makes up just about 6 percent of the total.

“American wind power is getting off to a very strong start in 2017, with the most new capacity since 2009,” said Hannah Hunt, senior analyst of AWEA. “At a national level that’s enough to power 25 million homes every year.

“And Kansas has emerged as a national leader in the first quarter with 480 megawatts.”

Wind farms are sprinkled across central and western Kansas but are clustered in southwest Kansas because of the reliably strong winds and the recently upgraded heavy transmission lines that connect Spearville, near Dodge City, to Wichita, the so-called V-Plan.

Wind farm development would likely accelerate in the next few years if Cleanline Energy of Houston wins approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission to build a direct current transmission line from Spearville to Indiana. The $7 billion project would carry 4,000 megawatts of power generated in western Kansas to states farther east.

The commission may rule on the proposal — rejected by the board in 2015 — later this month or in early June.

About three dozen wind farms, with more than 8,000 megawatts of generating capacity, are lined up and seeking study by the regional power authority, the Southwest Power Pool.

Most of these projects are unapproved and unscheduled. Construction would depend on getting approval and finding customers to buy the power.

Some states raced out ahead with the help of incentives. Now, Oklahoma – which has been aggressive in its use of tax credits – has voted to end them. Kansas never had an incentive, but it did impose a mandate on its large utilities; that has ended.

At this point, however, the state’s utilities continue to like wind power because it has become competitive with the least expensive competing energy source, which is now conventional gas-fired turbines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

“Technology has driven the industry, with prices for generation having fallen by two-thirds in the last seven years,” said Hunt of AWEA.

The federal government continues to offer a Production Tax Credit.

Kimberly Svaty, policy director for the Wind Coalition, a pro-wind-power group, said Gov. Sam Brownback has called for 50 percent of Kansas electricity to come from renewables, largely wind, by the end of his term. That’s likely to happen, either in late 2018 or just after.

Last year, Oklahoma generated 6,600 megawatts, about 25 percent of its production. Svaty said that with Oklahoma ending its incentives, she hopes to see more projects headed to Kansas.

“They have done very well,” Svaty said of Oklahoma. “It’s been a boon to their economy. … But now that they’ve changed their statutes, it will be great to level the field of competition.”