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FHSU ready to harvest the wind

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Wind turbines soon will tower above "College Hill," providing energy to the Fort Hays State University campus.

In a Friday morning press conference, FHSU President Edward Hammond announced signing of contracts for the installation of two 400-feet-tall wind turbines, a project estimated to cost about $9 million.

"The Kansas wind can be unpredictable at times, but one thing's for sure.... It always blows," Hammond said. "And it's a tremendous asset that we'll be able to use.

"Fort Hays State University, in its effort to harvest energy from the Kansas wind, has also seen some uncertainties, but, at least in my mind and our team here, the outcome has never been in doubt."

A project more than six years in the making, the FHSU wind turbines are hoped to provide annual energy savings for the university of $600,000 to $1 million. Hammond said the system is expected to be operational in 2013.

The project includes 3.5 miles of underground transmission line from the turbines to the Akers Energy Center on campus. Signing of a contract with PNE Corp. for installation and construction of the transmission line was set for Friday.

The turbines, on land owned by Brian Staab northwest of FHSU's Doppler radar system, will be outside the city of Hays' 3-mile radius.

In the summer of 2010 a request to amend the city's wind energy policy was submitted by FHSU to the Hays Area Planning Commission. As the amendment would have been less restrictive than county wind energy regulations, which in 2010 required set backs 10 times a wind turbine's tip height, the planning commission voted unanimously not to change its wind energy ordinance.

In 2011, Ellis County commissioners voted to amend the county's wind regulations, changing required setbacks to 1,000 feet, clearing the way. Hammond voiced his appreciation Friday morning.

"At one time, governmental entities were opposed to this initiative, and I want once and for all for everyone to be aware that it took creative leadership on their part to step up and approve it," Hammond said. "And since they made the decision to partner with us ... all we've had is the finest support and assistance from them every step along the way."

Representatives from Harvest the Wind Network, Greensburg, and WECC congratulated FHSU during Friday's press conference.

Educational and environmental benefits from the project will extend into the future according to Mike Steinke, executive managing partner of WECC, FHSU's consultant on the energy project, affecting "your students who are here today, and your future students ... some who are not even born yet," Steinke said.

"This is a long-term project with a lot of ultimate upside."