Kingman, Pratt counties see growth in wind development

By Jennifer Stultz Staff Wriiter jstultz@pratttribune.com

The wind was blowing at the Kingman and Ninnescah Wind Energy Centers Commissioning Ceremony last month, and that was putting it mildly.

But no one seemed to mind, especially the owners of the largest wind power facility in the United States of America, NextEra Energy.

"The Governor and some other officials couldn't be here because strong winds grounded their planes in Topeka," said NextEra Director of Development David Gil. "But I think, for us, that is a good sign of things to come. We like to see wind energy at work."

Around the ceremonial tent, set in a muddy field near Bock Family Ranch in Kingman County, wind turbines spun effortlessly, generating electrical power and opportunity for those associated with the industry.

In the past year, the NextEra-owned Kingman and Ninnescah Wind Energy Centers located in Pratt and Kingman counties have created more than 500 jobs during the construction phase of the projects, and long-term will employ 35 full-time operators.

Wind turbine centers from three counties − Pratt, Kingman and Sedgwick − are generating 400 megawatts of electricity from 241 wind turbines, providing enough power for more than 100,000 homes.

Land owners who enter lease-agreements with the wind energy company are not the only ones to benefit, said Kingman County commissioner John Steffen. As in most counties across the state, energy companies negotiated to make payments rather than pay taxes. 

"We didn't take the first offer," Steadman said. "We have been working on this a long time to negotiate the best deal for all of us concerning zoning, road use, bridge inspection, just a lot of issues had to be considered."

Westar Energy spokesman David Shupe said that Kansas largest power company, serving more than 700,000 customers, was happy to be working with NextEra provided Kansans with over half the power needed through clean energy sources, like nuclear and wind energy.

"We've put over $650,000 in capital investments in these three counties and have made a long-term committment with NextEra to bring Kansans the power and opportinites made possible by this partnership,"Shupe said. 

Gil presented Pratt USD 350 Superintendent Suzan Patton and two science teachers with a check for $2,500 to be put towards sciecne and technology education.

"We want to help student interest and education grow in wind energy fields so they can pursue science and engineering degrees to stay and work right here in Kansas," Gil said.

NextEra engineer and spokesperson Sam Massey said that Pratt County is home to the next big project currently in the works with NextEra Energy. The company has made agreements with landowners south and west of Pratt covering approximately 20,000 acres that will soon be home to 100 wind turbines.

"Pratt Energy will be similar in size to the Kingman and Ninnescah projects," Massey said. "We hope to start and finish construction in the next two years."