Kansas’ biggest buyer of wind energy, Westar, may be done for now, but that won’t stop the push for more wind farms in Kansas, say those in the industry.
On Wednesday, various local, state and corporate officials, and local landowners will gather beneath two soaring wind towers in a Kingman County field to dedicate the Kingman and Ninnescah wind farms.
Together, the two wind farms have the capacity to generate more than 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 100,000 homes. A quarter of that will go to Midwest Energy in Hays and municipal systems in McPherson, Chanute, Iola, Fredonia and Sabetha; Westar will take the rest.
Earlier this month, Westar cranked up operations on its 280-megawatt capacity Western Plains wind farm near Dodge City.
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And with that, it is done, at least for the time being, said Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig.
That gives the company a total of 1,750 megawatts of capacity either owned or purchased – equal to 40 percent of all wind power generated in Kansas.
Wind plays a big role
Wind makes up about 30 percent of Westar’s generation, with about 50 percent coming from its coal- and gas-fired plants, and 20 percent from the Wolf Creek Nuclear Plant.
Wind makes up about 30 percent of Westar’s generation.
But beyond Westar, the market for wind remains strong, say wind farm developers.
“We don’t foresee a slowing,” said Bryan Garner, spokesman for NextERA, which developed the Kingman and Ninnescah wind farms.
“We are very bullish about renewable energy and continue to invest in Kansas.”
There are utilities in Kansas beyond Westar that may be interested in additional wind power. Many have already bought in.
Because of the low cost of wind – close in cost to natural gas-fired power plants even without a subsidy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy – and the fact that the cost is locked in for up to 20 years by contract, makes wind an attractive part of utility portfolios.
That affordability becomes even stronger because of a federal tax credit. New wind plants receive a $23 per megawatt inflation-adjusted production tax credit over the plant’s first 10 years of service if they were under construction before the end of 2016, with the tax credit declining each year until disappearing in 2020.
A lot of companies jumped on that deal, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Kansas wind power generation grew 18 percent in 2016, to 4,451 megawatts, making Kansas the fifth-highest state in the nation. Several wind farms that were started in 2016 will also get the full tax credit.
Nationally, wind power generation grew 9 percent, to 82,000 megawatts. Wind power now is more than 5 percent of all electricity and growing fast.
But tax credits are not the biggest reason for wind’s surging growth, said Matt Langley, vice president of Infinity Renewables, a developer with three wind farms in Kansas.
“They help,” Langley said. “But the biggest role is the technology has gotten significantly more efficient. You get more megawattage out of the same gust of wind.”
Facebook likes wind
Of growing importance is the rise of the corporate buyer, such as Facebook and Microsoft, that want to fulfill corporate mandates for social responsibility. They aren’t satisfied simply buying off the local grid, Langley said.
They want to push wind development directly by buying directly. Of course, the electricity generated in western Kansas doesn’t directly find its way to Google or Facebook’s data centers and research offices in California or Colorado or Texas.
But they are helping create an equivalent amount to what they draw from the system.
The just-completed 400-megawatt Cimmaron Bend wind farm in Clark County is a perfect example of both markets. It will provide power to both Kansas City Board of Public Utilities and to Google.
Technology has gotten significantly more efficient. You get more megawattage out of the same gust of wind.
Matt Langley, Infinity Renewables
Investments throughout the state in new transmission lines – such as the V-plan power line between Wichita and Ford County – have made many of the new wind farms possible, giving those plants access to Wichita and Kansas City.
A large potential market for wind farms, Langley said, are utilities outside the state.
Right now, that really means adjacent states because of the limits of shipping alternating current through the grid.
But Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston has proposed a massive $2 billion direct current power line, the Grainbelt Express, to carry electricity from western Kansas to a transmission line that would carry power from western Kansas to Indiana.
It was approved in Kansas, but Missouri regulators turned the line down in 2015 after some landowners objected. Last week, Cleanline brought the proposal back to the Missouri Public Service Commission, after sweetening the deal. It is still to be decided.
If this goes through, say experts, the demand for wind plants in western Kansas would jump because that cheap Kansas wind power could then be sold much farther east.