Wind-power surge in Kansas puts heat on limited transmission system

Source: By Tim Carpenter, Pratt Tribune • Posted: Monday, January 27, 2020

TOPEKA — Kansas’ position as the nation’s top wind energy producer in terms of electricity generation adds pressure to expand transmission infrastructure to reduce in-state congestion and push power to urban centers to the east, a wind industry analyst said Monday.

Kimberly Svaty, who represents the 35-member Kansas Power Alliance, said updated statistics would likely show the state reached 50% wind energy integration by the end of 2019.

“We will be the first in the country to do that,” she said. “We cannot continue to have access to low-cost, reliable power if we don’t continue to invest in our transmission system. We need to build more transmission. We can export our energy.”

In 2018, the year for which the most recent statistics have been published, the wind-energy share of electricity generation in Kansas reached 36.4% followed by Iowa at 33.7%. Here are percentages for Kansas’ other neighbors: Oklahoma, 31.7%; Colorado, 17.4%; Nebraska, 14.1%; and Missouri, 3.6%.

The first operational wind farm was installed in 2001 in Montezuma. The state hosts more than 40 wind farms producing in excess of 6,100 megawatts of capacity with 1,200 megawatts under construction and 1,000 megawatts in advanced development. It’s enough juice to power 2 million homes or businesses, Svaty said.

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She said the 300-megawatt Soldier Creek farm under construction would provide power to the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, the city of Manhattan and USD 501 in Topeka.

There are more than 3,000 turbines on the Kansas landscape despite restrictions on development of wind farms in one-fourth of the state’s counties. Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius initiated restrictions on placement of wind turbines in the Flint Hills during 2005 in a bid to protect tallgrass prairie. In 2011, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback extended the moratorium zone to 33 counties.

Siting guidelines were established in 2005. Known as the “Flint Hills Box,” 16 counties were a moratorium area. There was an expansion in 2011 to 33 Kansas counties. With a court case favoring local control, counties now have more authority over the siting of industrial wind farms.