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Conservationists want wind farm rule input

by the Associated Press
from the Topeka Capital-Journal www.cjonline.com

KINSLEY -- Concerned with the threat wind farms could pose to animal habitats, conservation groups have asked the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission to create guidelines for wind energy developments.

The state currently has no guidelines for wind farm placement, and regulation is largely left up to county commissioners.

Rob Manes, with the Nature Conservancy in Kansas and a supporter of wind energy, told members of Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission on Thursday at a meeting in Kinsley that guidelines protecting habitats would likely lead to wind farms being moved to cropland that has already been disturbed.

To date, the state only has one large-scale wind operation -- the 110-megawatt Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma. But the 150-megawatt Elk River Windfarm in Butler County is currently under construction.

He said putting wind farms on tallgrass prairie -- such as the Elk River Windfarm being built in the Flint Hills -- hurts prairie chicken populations, not just birds who might fly into the wind turbines. Grasslands are the most diminished ecosystem in North America, and grassland bird populations also are declining, Manes said.

"Kansas has 8.5 million acres of tilled land with excellent resources for wind," Manes said.

Mike Hayden, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said the situation needs to be addressed. He noted that the Legislature hasn't adopted any rules and wants to leave it up to local leaders. He said he doesn't see lawmakers changing their position.

"We would not do that with a nuclear power plant," he said. "We would not do that with a coal-fired power plant."

A number of proposed sites for wind farming have cropped up in Kansas. Conservation groups have called for state action at a wind farm under construction in Butler County near Beaumont, where many prairie chickens reside.

Manes pointed out a study by Kansas State University biology professor R.J. Robel, which suggests prairie chickens don't like to nest near man-made structures, such as oil field pumps and power transmission lines.

Steve Sorensen, president of the Kansas Wildlife Federation, said 12 turbines on the Beaumont site went online this week.

"We support wind energy if they adhere to stringent siting guidelines," Sorensen said.

Commissioner Gerald Lauber, of Topeka, said that perhaps other priorities should be considered.

"I don't know how hard we want to pick up another battle," he said.

24 Oct 2005