Commentary: Kansas slow to reach wind energy potential

Though Kansas is the third-windiest state (behind North Dakota and Texas), it has been slow to capitalize on its wind-energy potential. But that could change soon because of recent actions by the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Mark Parkinson, and if Congress approves a national renewable electricity standard.

Kansas has significantly expanded its wind-energy production in the past year and a half, but it is still at only about one-tenth of its capacity, according to a U.S. Department of Energy study. The deal that Parkinson struck this spring with Sunflower Electric Power Corp. should help unlock some of this potential.

In exchange for allowing Sunflower to build a new power plant near Holcomb, Parkinson got the Legislature to approve a renewable energy standard requiring Kansas utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. The Legislature also approved net-metering, which allows Kansans in certain areas to generate their own power and sell the excess back to the utilities.

"More than two-thirds of the country had a renewable energy standard, and Kansas was one of only six states not to allow net-metering," Parkinson said. "With this legislation, we are no longer at the back of the line."

Though both requirements could have been stronger, they send an important message to wind turbine manufacturers and developers that Kansas is now "open for business."

Just as important was an announcement Parkinson made last week that two companies had reached a deal to build high-voltage transmission lines, which are expected to be completed by 2013. The lack of lines to move electricity from windy rural areas of the state to larger energy markets, including out of state, has been a major obstacle to wind-energy development.

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