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Sibelius, Ahmadinejad, and Kansan Wind Power

Recently Sunflower Electric Power (sounds ‘green’ right?) proposed two 700 megawatt coal-fired power plants to be built in western Kansas. State regulators denied the build permits on the grounds of the unsustainable CO2 emissions, and, predictably, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed bills to overturn the ruling. (Kansas is a traditionally coal-powered state, and it is still very much the status quo.) Governor Kathleen Sibelius vetoed the bills, which after narrowly surviving a vote in the legislature, stopped the new coal plants in their tracks.

Ads in Kansan newspapers aligning Sebelius with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared shortly after the decision. The ads were sponsored by Sunflower Electric Power and a newly-formed group called “Kansans for Affordable Energy.” (…Swift-boat Captains for Truth?)

“Why are these men smiling?” the ad asks.

“Because the recent decision by the Sebelius Administration means Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran.”

Sibelius quickly responded,  “Anyone who would associate our state with the controversial and disreputable world leaders pictured in this ad fundamentally misunderstands and disrespects the people of Kansas.”

“The ad is offensive to every Kansan, and the people of Kansas deserve an apology.”

Sibelius is, of course, not an advocate of increasing foreign oil imports. She is an outspoken advocate of boosting wind energy production in Kansas—one of the nation’s windiest states.

It seems that having a wind-friendly ally in the state capital is a welcome change for many farmers and clean-energy advocates who have been waiting to tap into the state’s huge wind resources. BusinessWeek is running a story about one such farmer, Pete Ferrell. Pete is a 4th generation Kansan rancher. His family, like many, has tried nearly everything possible to keep the 7,000 acre ranch in operation, including cattle and oil wells. Nothing is paying off like his new 150-megawatt, 100-turbine, wind farm.

From the article:

Ferrell is one of the fathers of Kansas wind farming. He ran through three different developers before getting the operation going on his land. There was stiff opposition to wind farming in the Flint Hills from preservationists concerned about marring the landscape and from politicians tied to the coal industry, but, finally, Ferrell had his way. He now travels the state as an evangelist. “He has been a great spokesman for wind in Kansas,” says Mark Lawlor, project manager in the state for Horizon Wind Energy, a wind farm developer. “He has lived off the land, and he’s found something new he can tap into.”

For centuries, the wind has been the enemy of the farmer. It blows away soil, dries out crops, and the howling makes some people crazy. So it’s a twist of fate that wind is now emerging as an ally. Some call the vast American prairie the Saudi Arabia of wind, capable of producing enough electricity to meet the entire country’s needs—assuming there’s the will to harness it.

As the article points out, Kansas is becoming a major battleground in the war for wind energy. And it seems, for the moment and thanks in large part to Sibelius, like wind is is winning. Farmers all across the state are investigating the economic opportunities of installing wind turbines on their land. Over a dozen new projects for wind farms are on the table. Wind developers now see Kansas as a open for business and are flocking to the state. It’s possible that Kansas wind production—which is currently only one-tenth the level of Texas, which has lighter wind—could double within the next five years.

Here’s hoping.

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