Shield the Flint Hills

Strong winds aren’t unique to the Flint Hills, as Wichitans and people throughout the state can attest this spring. But the Flint Hills are a unique treasure, an “ecological jewel of our state and the nation,” as Gov. Sam Brownback put it last week. So it was welcome news that Brownback has worked out a deal to more than double the area within the Flint Hills to be spared additional commercial wind farms.

Because of its winds, its proximity to transmission lines and its strong tradition of property rights, the Flint Hills have been seen as ripe for wind power. But Kansas is second only to Texas for its wind potential, with more than one portion of the state fueling dreams of being “the Saudi Arabia of wind.”

Then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius discouraged wind development in part of the Flint Hills in 2004.

Brownback’s agreement expands that plan, underscoring Kansans’ commitment to protect the last remaining expanse of the lush tallgrass prairie that once blanketed so much of North America.

Announced Friday as part of the governor’s “Road Map for Wind Energy Policy,” the voluntary agreement will protect an area to be known as the Tallgrass Heartland extending from the southern state line northward to Riley and Pottawatomie counties. Though it doesn’t constitute a legally enforceable “keep out” sign, the deal likely will deter expansion of the existing wind farms within the 10,895-square-mile area, and provide some certainty for power companies, landowners, environmentalists and government officials about where the state will be focusing its wind-power development.

In one measure of how rare the deal was, its announcement came with approving quotes from stakeholders as diverse as Audubon of Kansas, the Wind Coalition, Tallgrass Ranchers, Westar Energy and Protect the Flint Hills.

The agreement is only one of the steps Brownback could take during his tenure to maximize Kansas’ renewable-energy potential and safeguard the Flint Hills and their ecosystem.

But especially with its ongoing advances in transmission lines — including a 345,000-volt V-Plan line from Spearville to Wichita and the 345,000-volt KETA project from Spearville to Nebraska — Kansas can realize its enormous potential for wind generation without spoiling either the pristine landscape or precious wildlife of the Flint Hills. The foresight shown by Brownback and the other parties lays down a durable shield against industrial development in the Flint Hills.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman