Minami Levonowich
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Kansas currently creates enough wind energy to power nearly one million homes. By early 2017, 10 additional wind projects will be operating, potentially generating even more electricity for the state.
“We are in the middle of the United States. We also happen to be in the sweet spot for wind,” Kimberly Svaty, public policy director for The Wind Coalition in Kansas, said. “It makes sense to have more of these logistic facilities in Kansas because we can then distribute out to the rest of the nation.”
Kansas now has 24 operating wind farms. Since wind turbines don’t produce atmospheric emissions that cause greenhouse gases, wind energy is a clean, renewable fuel source. It’s an exciting time for the wind industry and for the state, Svaty said when she spoke Monday to members of the House Committee on Energy and the Environment.
In spite of the good news, there have been some slowdowns in the state’s wind energy industry, due to federal government actions.
Congress has extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) – a tax policy that provides financial support for renewable energy facilities – six times but also allowed it to expire six times. The PTC was originally part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992.
This “up and down debate” as Svaty calls it, creates an inconsistent cycle of development. For example, wind project installations dropped between 76 and 93 percent during the years following expirations. Because of the uncertainty of whether the PTC would expire in 2012, wind energy development virtually halted. This led to the layoff of more than 600 employees in Kansas by wind turbine manufacturer Siemens, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), reported.
At the end of 2015, Congress extended the PTC for five years, with overwhelming approval in both the U.S. House and Senate. This extension will allow The Wind Coalition to offer an affordable price to utilities that purchase energy as wind development continues to increase.
“We’re looking at an extremely competitive price for Kansas wind,” Svaty said. “It’s around $14 (per MWh), and that is what we’re seeing for fixed contracts, 20-year contracts.”
A study published by KU atmospheric science Professors Nate Brunsell and David Mechem, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2015, found that when a substantial number of turbines are installed in a small area, the additional turbines generate less electricity, creating a slowdown effect. The authors believe that even though this effect could be a pressing concern in the future as the wind industry continues to grow, for now, it won’t affect performance.
“At the current level of wind farm installations in Kansas, any slowdown is mostly of academic interest,” Mechem said. “We would have to install roughly 50 times the number of currently installed turbines (or equivalent increase in capacity) to even begin to see the slowdown.”
Jeff Clark, executive director of The Wind Coalition, claims that the slowdown effect is a “non-issue” since the company makes sure that each turbine is spaced accordingly.
“The slowdown effect is a well-known phenomenon and one that we have extensively studied and plan for,” Clark said. “Any impact on the productivity of a wind turbine is carefully assessed and addressed.”