I move very fast but I don’t have feet,
You can hear me but not for my mouth,
I can bring down a building yet I’m not a
machine…what am I ?
As I listened to a December gale buffet the house early this morning, I thought how the wind has always been such a riddle to us in Kansas.
We complain about it in the winter, and worry about it when it starts to drift snow across the roads. We need it in June to rustle and tease the wheat crop into ripening. We long for it in the summer, just a little breeze to stir the air on a humid August day.
In Kansas, wind is your near, dear, constant companion, friend, and foe.
For 10 years or more, there have been people wondering whether the wind could become a cash crop in Republic County. There have been wind studies and discussions about what it might take to blow a wind farm our direction.
Then one day this summer, sort of unexpectedly, “what if” became “maybe”.
And it is still a “maybe” that depends on a lot of factors. Even though the wind sometimes drives us to distraction here, there needs to be actual, measureable, steady, consistent meteorological data to determine whether it blows enough days to merit a multi-million dollar installation of turbines. Interestingly enough, the wind isn’t consistent. Studies show it blows more in the east side of the county than the west.
Many families in the county, including my own, have been asked to decide whether they want to make a decades-long commitment to be part of a wind installation. There are questions about transmission lines to get power to customers, and ultimately, the most important question, whether there is a customer to commit to a long-term purchase of power generated by a wind farm. For any utility that generates electricity, the final question becomes “What price are customers willing to pay?”
Republic and Washington counties have been invited to the wind farm dance a little later than others.
That has benefits: local officials have been able to learn from the expertise of other counties in what to think about in terms of what will be needed for roads and infrastructure. Wind farms have operated in the state for 15 years, and across the nation for longer, which gives local citizens the opportunity to weigh opportunities and drawbacks.
The downside for the county is that a new state law that regulates how wind farms are taxed may limit the potential financial impact to the county budget. That legislation was passed only a few months before anyone in Republic County knew there was a serious suitor for a wind farm. There still could be benefits for the tax base, lease payments to individual landowners, and addition of about 12 permanent jobs and a couple hundred people here for construction. But for the county as a whole, tax contribution of a wind farm may be less than the first counties where wind farms were built received.
Republic County Commissioners made a good call Monday to leave the door open to a possible “payment in lieu of taxes” agreement with NextEra Energy, while staying realistic about the fact that the future wind developments may look very different for counties because of the action of the 2016 Kansas Legislature.
Which way the wind blows from here on out is anyone’s guess.