Isn’t wind energy “green energy?”

What’s wrong with placing wind turbines in the Flint Hills?
Don’t we need to do something about energy alternatives? Won’t it reduce our dependence on foreign oil?
How big are these turbines?
Will the construction do that much damage?
What are the economic benefits to land owners and others?
Don’t we have siting guidelines in our state?
Where should wind turbines go?
What are some other issues?

Isn’t wind energy “green energy?” Back To Top

While it seems wise to wean ourselves from our dependency on fossil-based energy, it would be naïve to think that the development of renewables in any location is always a wise choice. Hydro energy is an example of a renewable energy source with many negative ecological consequences. Wind energy, too, has the potential for adverse side effects if siting is not addressed.

Kansas is powered primarily by nuclear, natural gas and coal plants. Because of the control necessary to meet the grid's demands, coal-fired power stations must keep their generators going, thus producing pollutants whether the wind turbines are producing power or not. Because the traditional generators must be "online" at all times in order to guarantee consistent electricity, one MW of wind produced energy does not necessarily replace one MW of traditionally produced energy.

We should keep in mind that wind is not the only renewable alternative, and we should not focus only on the production side of this issue. The most cost effective approach to curbing our use of fossil fuels is energy conservation. Every dollar spent on efficient appliances can save $3 to $5 in renewable energy system components. Something as simple as replacing four of the most-used incandescent light bulbs in every home in America with florescent bulbs would be the equivalent of about 5,840 wind turbines of 1.5 MW capacity.

What’s wrong with placing wind turbines in the Flint Hills? Back To Top

The scenic and biological integrity of the last extensive stand of Tallgrass Prairie, which once covered the heartland of America, will be forever changed if wind developers have their way. The Flint Hills are treasured by many. People from all over the world come here to experience this serene landscape. Those same visitors will likely not return to the Flint Hills to see industrial development. Even wind companies have admitted that tourism will be affected. Sadly, most of the proposed locations for wind energy facilities are in the more intact areas of the Flint Hills. Turbines would be placed on the prominent ridge tops which would make them visible for miles in each direction.

Don’t we need to do something about energy alternatives? Back To Top

Perhaps, yes, but turbines only run at 15-40% efficiency because the wind does not blow all the time. It does not make sense to sacrifice the last stand of intact Tallgrass Prairie—the last 4%--for an alternative generation source that does not operate efficiently or economically.

Won’t it reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Back To Top

Oil used for electric power generation in the U.S. fell from 20% in 1973 to less than 1% in 2011. The majority of our oil use (70-80%) is for transportation, not electricity generation. Currently, Kansas electricity is generated primarily by coal, nuclear and natural gas plants. Because coal and nuclear generators must be continuously online in order to ensure the grid's consistent reliability, plants must keep the generators operating, thus producing pollutants whether the wind turbines are producing power or not. Because the traditional generators must be "online" at all times in order to guarantee consistent electricity, one MW of wind produced energy does not replace one MW of energy produced by coal or nuclear.

How big are these turbines? Back To Top

Proposed wind turbines in the Flint Hills range from 400 to as much as 500 feet tall. The Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Capitol, and the Epic Center in Wichita are all shorter than these turbines.

Size Comparison

Will the construction do that much damage? Back To Top

The native plant community in the Tallgrass Prairie is diverse and has an extensive root system, some reaching down to as deep as 15 feet. Disturbance from construction activities would require many decades or even longer for the fragile system to regain its original character. The turbines would need a base approximately 18-25' wide by 20-30' deep, filled with concrete. Drilling and blasting are the only means to burrow a hole that deep in the limestone bedrock. The anchoring process and the presence of massive equipment to erect each turbine will undoubtedly damage a wide area around each site. In addition, roads will be built to and from each tower as well as trenches for a cable system to each site.
Once the construction is finished, the Tallgrass Prairie will be fragmented. The prairie represents much more than four or five species of native grass. The grass seed for these rare grasses is not available at Wal-Mart. This truly is a diverse plant community that may not be able to be restored after extensive construction activity.

What are the economic benefits to land owners and others? Back To Top

Industrial wind companies lease the land on a per turbine basis. Lease agreements range from $2000 to as much as $13,000 a turbine depending on the developer and the location. Landowners should realize that some lease agreements can become void when wind companies change hands. Landowners and local government officials should also recognize that they might end up dealing with a wind company that was not the initial developer. These companies do not pay any taxes in Kansas, yet they make millions of dollars a year in profit. The tax payers pick up the tab. Analyses of states where industrial wind companies are located show an increase in taxes and utility costs.

Land owners who have been entrepreneurs in the tourism business will lose revenue if wind facilities are built in their area. Kansas Travel and Tourism and land owners have worked hard to promote attractions unique to Kansas. Many tourism opportunities are currently available in the scenic Flint Hills including trail rides, wagon trains, working ranches, educational tours, hunting outfitters and bed and breakfasts. These land owners will lose and so will Kansas.

Don’t we have siting guidelines in our state? Back To Top

There are no binding siting guidelines in our state. A number of states have failed to establish siting guidelines, and now they are faced with wind complexes in scenic and/or historic areas and abandoned wind turbines.

Where should wind turbines go? Back To Top

SState guidelines should have been in place before any industrial development was invited into our state. A comprehensive plan for any industrial development should include:
• Placement: in already fragmented land
• Placement: away from flight patterns of migratory birds and nesting grounds of upland game birds
• Placement: a safe distance from highways
• Placement: away from the viewscape of historical and culturally significant areas
• Placement: after analysis is completed of environmental issues including water, soil erosion, wildlife preservation, and endangered species


What are some other issues?

To date, no geological study has been done on water issues. We do not know if our underground water system will be jeopardized. Because the foundation of each turbine is 20-30 feet deep, blasting and drilling must be done to penetrate to that depth. The Flint Hills rely heavily on wells and springs for water. We cannot allow this unnecessary disturbance to create yet another environmental problem in our state.

Demolition of abandoned turbines is not always included in project plans. Cleanup can cost millions of dollars. Other unexpected expenses for the counties include the purchase of rescue equipment tall enough to reach the top of a turbine and the repair of roads from the heavy equipment during construction.
Recognition that turbines start prairie fires has been ignored, with no plan for additional fire equipment in the area. California claims that 90% of the fires in one area were caused by wind turbines.

In the Flint Hills, destruction of an unfragmented habitat for wildlife, especially the prairie chicken, is a very important issue. The prairie chicken population has been diminishing gradually. Fragmentation of the Flint Hills will lower the population even more, bringing the prairie chicken to the endangered species level. Prairie chickens need several square miles of undisturbed land to establish their nesting habits.

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