Study ranks Kansas 2nd in nation for wind power

For years, Gov. Mark Parkinson has been telling anyone who would listen that Kansas has the third-largest potential in the nation for generating wind power.

Now, he'll have to rewrite his speech.

Kansas is now No. 2 for wind potential, according to data released Friday by the Department of Energy.

The new study vaulted Kansas and Texas — the new No. 1 — past former wind-potential leader North Dakota, which fell all the way to No. 6 on the new list.

Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota round out the new top five.

The numbers show that Kansas has the potential to generate 3.6 million gigawatt hours of electricity from wind — roughly equivalent to 10 times the power consumed by the state of California in a year.

Kansas' wind potential was upgraded from earlier estimates of 1 million gigawatt hours.

The governor was delighted.

"This is great news for our state and the entire Midwest," Parkinson said in an e-mail response to questions from The Eagle. "This latest assessment from the Department of Energy underscores our potential."

A big reason that Kansas scores so well on wind potential is the amount of land available for windmills, said Michael Brower, a doctor of meteorology and a principal in AWS Truewind. The Albany, N.Y., company performed the wind research underlying the new government estimates.

Kansas' flat geography helps its wind potential, too.

While other states have good wind along mountain ridgelines, there often isn't very much space for developing wind farms there, he said.

In Kansas, "just about anywhere you throw a dart at the map, you find a decent wind project site," he said.

Technology is another component of improved wind-generating capacity, Brower said.

First, scientists' ability to measure wind strength is better than it was when the previous study was done in 1993. The new numbers are more accurate, he said.

In addition, turbines are being built much taller, putting their blades at levels with higher wind speeds.

And today's generators are more efficient at turning wind energy into electric power, he said.

Parkinson called on the Kansas congressional delegation to work to pass national standards to require power providers to use renewable energy.

"Our state stands to gain extraordinary opportunities with federal energy legislation," he said. "A strong RES (Renewable Energy Standard) will have states turning to Kansas to purchase renewable energy, creating thousands of Kansas jobs and boosting our economy."

Brower said it's possible that Kansas could become a major source of wind power for the Denver, St. Louis and north Texas markets.

"There's a tremendous amount that Kansas could develop," Brower said. "You still have a way to go to meet your own needs from wind, (but) I think export is definitely on the table for Kansas."