Two weeks ago and with little fanfare, the Ellis County Commission easily was able to accomplish what was impossible a mere seven years ago. The commissioners signed agreements that pave the way for a wind farm to be built between Hays and Ellis.
Spread out over 28,500 acres north of Interstate 70, plans are in place for Buckeye Wind Energy to erect approximately 105 turbines capable of producing a collective 200 megawatts of renewable energy.
"This has been in the works for seven years," Commissioner Swede Holmgren said. "Finally, to come in on the 25th of November and say you're now clear to sink a spade in the ground and start construction. Hopefully, we have won over some of those folks who weren't in favor of wind early on."
Not to dash the commissioner's hopes, but of all the things that have changed since then, winning over the anti-wind crowd was not one. All those principled positions effectively were quieted by moving the project's location.
More pertinent changes were new faces on the county commission, none of whom belong to the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition. That group, which successfully organized a grassroots opposition movement, faded away after the Iberdrola wind farm proposal was stopped dead in its tracks.
Ellis County not only put in place all the appropriate zoning and regulations since then, it also hired a professional administrator to keep the county's business dealings organized, predictable and stable.
Fort Hays State University also brought two turbines online that have performed as advertised and without incident.
But we believe the single biggest factor contributing to Buckeye Wind's successful application was the placement of the farm. Getting the turbines north of the interstate was critical.
We have no doubt the wind farm will deliver the desired green energy to the national grid. As a state, Kansas still has the third highest amount of potential wind power in the country. And all of the data collected suggest Ellis County could be one of the top producers in the state.
County coffers will benefit as a result of the Buckeye project. In addition to signing road maintenance and decommissioning agreements, the two parties reached a deal regarding payments in lieu of taxes. The county will receive $600,000 each of the first two years, increasing to $800,000 for year three and go up 1 percent annually from that point.
"I think all three of these agreements represent a good balance between protecting the interests of the county as well as not overburdening the project," said Dennis Davidson, legal counsel for the county regarding wind issues.
Buckeye Wind Energy is scheduled to begin construction on the project before the end of the year in order to take advantage of federal tax credits.
This particular wind farm project attracted no arguments or debates about water flow underground or surface water runoff being disrupted, potential harm to wildlife, health risks of low frequency noise, possible eye or brain damage from the incessant blinking lights, danger of ice chunks being hurled from the blades, interference with communications, aesthetics of the viewshed, declining property values, the blizzards of shrapnel that could occur if a tornado hit a turbine, and all of the other objections raised in 2007.
We can explain their absence in one of three ways:
* All of the concerns since have been proven unfounded;
* Having a county administrator handling the process professionally and openly squashes any uninformed rumors from taking hold; or
* Those protesting back then truly were NIMBYs who couldn't care less if all those bad things happen outside of their neighborhood.
It doesn't matter at this point. What does is that Ellis County is about to take part in harnessing the power of the wind. Congratulations to everybody involved in bringing this project to fruition.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry