Kansas Wildlife Federation

Thursday, June 17 2004

A Moment of Decision for the Flint Hills

The Wind and Prairie Task Force’s Final Report is now online. Note that the link goes directly to a 57-page pdf file - use caution if your version of Reader is slow or has some problems.

The report has some helpful suggestions, but in a way, we’re all right back where we started, with the basic question - “Are we going to industrialize the Flint Hills?” - still up for grabs.

The Task Force has put two options before the Governor. Option A encourages a moratorium and puts forward tax code changes that would direct commercial wind energy projects to ecologically low impact areas. Option B says we need to study the issue and ask wind power developers to exercise restraint.

We put up Option A on this site sometime back. This is the path we’d like to the Governor to take.

If you want to contact the Governor and encourage her to pick Option A, you need to call her and tell her so. Give a shout to the Governor’s office at 1-877-579-6757, and let her know you want her to take action to keep America’s last tallgrass prairie from becoming an industrial development.

If you’d like to read our letter we sent to the Governor today to ask her to select Option A, click on “more.”

June 17, 2004

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Governor of the State of Kansas
Kansas State Capitol
300 SW 10th Avenue, Ste. 212S
Topeka, KS 66612

Dear Governor Sebelius,

I am writing to you to follow up on the delivery of Final Report from the Wind and Prairie Task Force. We have several concerns with the language in the Final Report, and the way it presents its options to you. The purpose of this letter is to alert you to those concerns, and share with you the option we believe represents the best future for the state of Kansas.

The introduction to the report states that wind energy “promotes energy security and independence.” This is at best a misleading statement. Commercial wind energy is an intermittent source of energy, and hence it relies on coal, methane, and nuclear power generation to supplement its failures on days when there is either not enough wind or too much wind. Since the USA is self-reliant in these three fuel supplies, wind energy does nothing to promote independence from foreign oil supplies.

The introduction also states that commercial wind energy is a subject of debate for people in the Flint Hills. This is partially true - “intense debate” would be more accurate. It would have been more accurate still to note that commercial wind energy also has been a subject of intense debate in Maryland, Massachusetts, California, England, Ireland, Germany, and Denmark. Although the areas differ, the reasons do not - the impact on the landscape, bird life, and the impact on local taxes and utilities from the subsidization of an unprofitable industry.

This last point should have been considered, but has not been explicitly identified in the report. Wind energy is viable not because it is profitable, but because of a “perfect storm” of state and federal tax shelters and subsidies. This structure of tax breaks is so fragile that during this past legislative session, wind energy officials were threatening to abandon new developments in Kansas entirely if their property tax exemptions were repealed. Do we want to destroy America’s last tallgrass prairie for an industry that is apparently very fragile?

The list of omissions and misstatements of fact in the Wind and Prairie Task Force report could be quite a long one, but one in particular deserves mention: in the section on “Zoning and Land Use” the report states: “Under Kansas law, land used for agricultural purposes is exempt from zoning.” This is almost, but not quite, true. As you probably know, zoning may not be used to forbid the use of land for agricultural purposes. It is perfectly possible to use zoning codes to forbid industrial development on agricultural land. This is of particular importance because commercial wind energy is industrial development.

While the report does give you some context in which to shape a choice, the basic choice before is the same as it was before the Task Force began its work: do we take steps to protect the Flint Hills and other areas of native prairies or do we open it up for commercial wind power?

Although the package of ideas presented as “Option B” makes reference to protecting the Flint Hills, in actuality, it does not contain any actual protective steps. Builders are asked to “exercise restraint” while the state finds funding to map out intact prairie areas and then develops legislation to take some of those areas off limits to wind development.

There are a number of problems with “Option B”. There is no incentive for wind power developers to exercise the restraint you will be asking them to exercise. In fact, there is an incentive for them to move faster, as the process outlined can only result in fewer new places to develop. Additionally, one of the topics for discussion is always “what’s intact prairie?” The debate that would take place over the mapping can be readily imagined.

Just as importantly, even if this approach succeeded, the process would almost certainly lead to fragmented habitat and turn America’s last great tallgrass prairie into a grouping of disconnected prairie areas, unable to maintain an ecosystem to support the wildlife species so dependent on its existence.

Of the two options presented to you in this report, Option A gives you the best chance of preserving the greatness of the Flint Hills and our other native prairies, and of the unique ecology they contain. This is because:

1. The moratorium Option A recommends will allow the development of siting guidelines, which are the key component in putting wind energy development into appropriate areas.
2. Option A recognizes that massive utility scale energy development is an appropriate matter for state agencies, whether that generation takes the form of coal, nuclear, or wind power.
3. Option A proposes structural fixes that will direct wind energy into ecologically appropriate areas, while Option B guarantees that wind builders will keep coming into the Flint Hills.

Wind energy does have some potential, and our state’s potential for this form of power generation is a real resource. Too often, the question of wind energy in the Flint Hills is portrayed as saying “yes” or “no” to wind energy.

The Kansas Wildlife Federation is not against wind energy - we are for the Flint Hills and our other native prairies. Once the question becomes “what’s the best way to work for the tallgrass prairie?” the reasons why Option A is your best choice resolve into focus.

If we can ever be of service to your administration on hunting, fishing, wildlife or outdoor recreation issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,

Steven G. Sorensen
President

+ Dan @ 11:57am

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