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Hammond: Wind will blow

By KALEY LYON Hays Daily News While plans for an Ellis County wind farm are on hold after the Ellis County Commission's 2-1 vote Tuesday rejecting the application, Fort Hays State University plans to continue pursuing a small wind energy development of its own. Plans are not definite, but administrators are hoping to implement a 5-megawatt facility, with an estimated price tag of about $10 million, said FHSU President Edward Hammond. "It is still our plan to put in wind turbines that would support our electrical energy needs," he said. "We were waiting to see whether or not the large wind farm was going to become a reality. ... It would be more inexpensive for us to do our project as part of a bigger project." The university had hoped to partner with a larger wind development because it would have been the least expensive option. Hammond estimated the campus could have saved about 10 percent, or $1 million, by combining its equipment order with a larger project. Negotiations with energy utilities and the wind company are pending. FHSU will know how to proceed after it becomes clear how Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA will continue with the county application, Hammond said. "Now we will have a discussion with the wind company and try to ascertain what their plan is," he said. "If they're going to wait a year or two, we're probably going to go ahead and proceed. "Then we need to know how to proceed, who to partner with. We need to talk to Midwest Energy and a couple of other players," he said. Because Fort Hays land is state-owned, countywide zoning does not apply. FHSU owns land directly south and west of the main campus. FHSU has had two wind-energy strategies all along, Hammond said. The campus either was going to implement its project as part of the larger Ellis County development or do it on its own. "There are things that are still on the table, but we haven't finalized them," Hammond said. "Until the vote yesterday, we weren't sure which way to go." Hammond said wind energy would be a sound investment for FHSU. The campus has been pursuing energy generation since the implementation of generators reduced electrical bills by $250,000 each year. The campus, however, still is spending about $1.2 million on electrical bills, Hammond said. "If we can get our wind generators up, we believe we can cut that in half," he said, "which is a sizable savings for the university." The plan is to secure project investors so the end result would be at no cost to the university. This model of funding has been used by other high schools and smaller colleges for wind generation, he said. While there still are several questions left to answer -- such as what energy and wind generation company to partner with, and how to maintain the generators once they're installed -- it's time to move forward, he said. "We're ready to begin moving down the road now that a decision has been made," Hammond said. Reporter Kaley Lyon can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 138, or by e-mail at klyon@dailynews.net.