Environmentalists Blocking Wind Farms? And Solar? And Geothermal?

Kansas is ranked second in the nation behind Montana for wind energy potential, a fact which should have environmentalists jumping for joy. Instead, they’re trying to block the construction of transmission lines to wind farms in south central Kansas and north central Oklahoma.

Why? Well it all has to do with the lesser prairie chicken. According to a story by the Hutchinson News in February of this year, ranchers and wildlife officials in the area are teaming up with groups like the Sierra Club to block the construction of the lines, which would apparently run through prime breeding territory for the bird. Studies by Kansas State University show the birds will not nest within 400 yards of a power line, and the counties through which the lines would run are where the largest concentrations of the birds remain. Indeed, Kansas is the last state in the nation with a hunting season for lesser prairie Chicken.

The problem developers ITC Great Plains (a Kansas subsidiary of a Michigan company) and Prairie Wind Transmission (a joint venture between Westar Energy and Electric Transmission America) are facing: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is saying if more habitat is lost -- and 60 percent of it has been lost in western Kansas alone -- they’ll have to list the bird as “threatened.” In that case, the developers may find themselves with wind farms to nowhere.

The developers find themselves under deadlines of a sort. Kansas has mandates to produce 10 percent of its power from so-called “green sources” by this year, and 20 percent by 2020. Additionally, the energy companies would like to cash in on the demand nationwide for “renewable energy,” and that means being able to transmit the power from Kansas wind farms outside the state before other companies get there -- so they need these lines built, and built fast.