Cost to route around Kansas prairie chickens? Millions

Protecting a covey of 140 lesser prairie chickens southeast of Dodge City, Kan., could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the price of a critical wind energy power line.

By one estimate, rerouting the proposed line away from the birds’ habitat will increase costs by $567 million — more than $4 million a bird.

Yet those same birds spend part of the winter dodging hunters’ bullets. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks — which supports moving the power line — for $20.50 issues licenses to shoot up to 40 of the birds.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, whose approval is needed for the project to proceed, is scheduled today to take up the power line issue. It would be built by a partnership that includes Westar Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, and its costs eventually would be paid by utility customers in several states, including Kansas and Missouri.

Westar and the state wildlife agency have filed written testimony favoring the revised route as the one that is best for the lesser prairie chicken. Westar’s partnership changed the route after the wildlife agency and groups such as the Nature Conservancy opposed the original route because it would disrupt the birds’ habitat.

But Chermac Energy, an Oklahoma wind-energy developer that was counting on the line’s original route, is crying foul.

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