Kansans must not let myths about wind energy undermine its economic development power

Wind turbines near Vermillion, in Marshall County, Kansas. (Dorothy Barnett)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Dorothy Barnett is executive director of the Climate + Energy Project.

Wind energy is one of the best economic development tools available to our rural communities.

Unfortunately, benefits to the local economy are often overshadowed by fear about wind energy. I’m writing today as a renewable energy expert who has led a Kansas-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization for 13 years. My work frequently involves providing expert testimony on utility regulations and clean energy policy. In recent years, we’ve seen massive misinformation campaigns stood up in local communities to encourage the rejection of economic development projects involving wind.

These misleading campaigns are costing rural communities millions of dollars, both in direct payments to landowners who need the money to keep their farms viable, and to local communities that benefit from the developer investments and additional tax revenue.

A 300-megawatt wind project generates enough energy to power approximately 141,000 Kansas homes each month and brings 250-300 construction jobs to the host community for a year. These folks spend their money in local restaurants, shop at local stores for gas and goods, and stay in local hotels and rentals, generating sales tax revenue for the local government and increased sales for main street businesses.

After a completed wind farm is up and running, it provides steady full-time, high-wage employment for 12 to 15 people. The fastest growing job in the country today is for wind technicians, many trained in Kansas at Cloud County Community College. With an average salary of $55,000 annually, these high-wage employees provide a significant gain to local economies.

Further, a new Economic Impact of Wind Energy study reports the wind farms operating in our state will provide $1.51 billion in direct economic benefits to landowners and the 30 Kansas counties, including Ford and Pratt, who host wind farms through land leases, contribution agreements and property taxes over the life of the projects.

With 40 wind farms across the state, Kansas counties have figured out how to site wind farms to address any legitimate concerns residents may have about noise and shadow flicker. If you want to learn more about these issues, you can join Amanda Miller, senior client consultant with the Olsson engineering firm, and wind farmer Pete Ferrell on June 8 to learn more about health and safety of wind turbines and Pete’s experience living and raising cattle in the Elk River wind farm.

A Kansas Corporation Commission map of wind resources as of December 2019. (Submitted)

It’s important to fact check the data and dispel the myths being repeated by anti-wind activists. Failure to do so is to risk the investment of major economic development projects that could infuse needed resources across the state. The Climate + Energy Project is doing our part by hosting virtual community wind workshops throughout the summer. We kicked off the series with the history and overview of the wind industry followed by the economics of wind energy from the Kansas Department of Commerce and a veteran economic development professional from Ford County, the county with the most wind in Kansas.

On June 22, Wichita State University will provide an overview of their study of wind energy impacts to Kansas property values and a review of studies from across the country, all suggesting that neither proximity nor view of wind turbines, or the announcement and construction of a wind farm, have any significant effect on property values. The last workshop will feature information from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks on the wildlife impacts of wind energy and the process they undertake when wind farms are sited.

Even though wind farm developers can only put turbines on land they have leased, I’m concerned that we’re increasingly giving consideration only to anti-wind voices without regard for the landowners who want wind energy or the local economic benefits they bring.

For those who want to sustain their rural way of life and ensure economic vitality in the region, it’s important to embrace economic development ventures when they come. Wind energy can infuse resources into rural Kansas that will long help main street businesses, area farmers and local government.

We shouldn’t let fear and faulty data stand in the way of this important economic development opportunity.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.