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Missouri wind farm is windfall for rural community

KING CITY, Mo. (AP) -- In operation for less than a year, the Bluegrass Ridge Farm with its giant turbines has become the face of this struggling northwest Missouri community. Missouri's first commercial wind farm has literally been a windfall for this town of about 1,000 residents 80 miles north of Kansas City. Local officials are planning a new $250,000 visitors' center, the county is looking at some much-needed road and infrastructure work, and the school district is thinking about unfreezing teacher salaries and adding computer labs. "We here in this small community are just hanging on," said Dexall Swan, a lifelong King City resident. "Any little bit helps." The wind farm has 27 massive turbines -- which peak at 262 feet and can be seen from miles away -- spread across 6,000 acres of farmland. At times it can be a surreal sight as the giant blades spin steadily in the wind. Since the first turbines started turning in March, tourists have been flocking to the community from St. Joseph, Kansas City and even Iowa to see them. "It sure is a novelty, seeing those big ol' windmills out there turning," Mayor Jim Gillespie said. "We've embraced it." Also embraced is the injection of revenue the wind farm has brought to the county. Next year, more than $300,000 in new property tax money will go into the Gentry County coffers. The school district, which suffered 9 percent budget and personnel cuts a few years ago, is expected to bring about $200,000 more. "This will keep us from having to go back to the taxpayers in the next two to five years," said school district Superintendent Kendall Ebersold. "And it will allow us to become competitive in trying to find the best teachers in the area and retaining the ones we have." Tom Carnahan of St. Louis is the son of late Gov. Mel Carnahan and president of Wind Capital Group, which developed the King City wind farm. He said construction could begin next year on another wind farm just south of town that would be at least twice as big as the first one. "Wind energy is by far the most efficient and cost-effective renewable energy out there," Carnahan said. "Because of that, I think we can expect it to continue to grow." Decisions like one made Kansas' top regulator to reject two coal-powered electricity plants because of concerns about potential carbon emissions seem to support that contention. Kansas has three wind farms up and running, and there could be 10 or more by the end of 2008. At King City, farmers are paid $3,000 a year for each turbine on their property. That means more money will be circulating through town to go along with the influx of money from curious onlookers who come from other areas to see the gigantic turbines. Still, for some residents there is a downside. Charlie Porter, who doesn't have any turbines on his property but several near his home, said the turbines have ruined the lives of his family. "If you don't live underneath one of them and you drive down the highway, they look kind of neat," said Porter, who owns 20 acres in King City. "But for us, it's been a nightmare. They've ruined the equity in our home. The noise keeps us up at night. The shadows invade our home."