Kansas learned last week that it's second only to Texas among states for its potential wind generation, according to a new report co-authored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Now, the state and its leaders, with help from Congress, should take the second-place status and run with it, turning that potential into power, jobs and profits.
The DOE study tripled the nation's wind capacity to 37 million gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, reflecting the vast technological improvements in wind turbines, which are getting taller and more powerful. As of 2008, only 52,000 gigawatt-hours were coming from wind turbines.
With Kansas in a position to generate 3.6 million gigawatt hours of the nation's future electricity from wind, up from old estimates of 1 million gigawatt hours, the economic development possibilities for the state suddenly seem limitless.
Among Kansas' assets are its topography and available land, according to Michael Brower, a principal in consulting firm AWS Truewind, which contributed to the DOE study. He said Kansas could become a major exporter of wind power to the markets of Denver, St. Louis and northern Texas.
"Just about anywhere you throw a dart at the map, you find a decent wind project site" in Kansas, Brower told The Eagle.
Of course, siting a wind farm or transmission lines is far harder than throwing a dart at a map. So is paying for them, especially in this economy.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., told a Garden City crowd last week, "We're No. 2 in the nation for wind energy, but we don't have the power lines to take it to market."
The American Wind Energy Association also reported earlier this month that wind equipment manufacturers are cutting jobs amid sluggish demand, as the industry waits on Congress to pass a renewable energy standard.
Brownback said he supports a renewable energy standard, as does Gov. Mark Parkinson, who says it "will have states turning to Kansas to purchase renewable energy."
But an RES — under which utilities would ramp up the percentage of their power from renewable sources over a period of time — needs to be strong to be effective. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told governors over the weekend that, thanks in part to the stimulus bill, renewable sources already are on pace to supply perhaps 17 percent of the nation's electricity. That would exceed the RES passed by the House as part of the cap-and-trade bill and the 15 percent target by 2021 (including 4 percent from energy efficiency) that Brownback voted for last year in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Chu called for a more aggressive RES, perhaps 20 percent by 2020.
"We can be the Saudi Arabia of wind," Brownback has said. Before he retires from the Senate, Brownback could do Kansans a big favor and help lead a bipartisan push to pass a meaningful renewable energy standard.