Waverly prospers as wind propels electricity to Kansas City

By Susan Welte Staff Writer swelte@ottawaherald.com

WAVERLY − Cattle, crops and wind turbines live in harmony in this town of 700.

About 30 miles east of Emporia in Coffey County, about halfway between Wichita and Kansas City, the 24,000-acre Waverly Wind Farm project got underway in early 2015. It became commercially operational in January 2016.

"It's a pretty good spot for demand," said Pat Cheever, operations manager for the farm. "We also find it to be a pretty good area in terms of the ratio of pasture to agricultural land."

About 100 landowners here have leased ground to the company for wind turbines.

"We are able to farm right up close to the turbines," Joan Steward, a local landowner who has two turbines on the family's 320 acres of farmland, said. "There's really no difference in what we do. Once it was built and the grass was replanted, the cattle could go right up next to it."

Steward and her husband, LeRoy, have lived in the same farmhouse since 1958. Although they no longer farm themselves, they rent out the acreage to other farmers. Steward said she doesn't see why landowners "wouldn't be cooperative" with the wind energy company.

"It's never been a very big inconvenience," Steward said. "We were always able to utilize and rent the pasture and all of that, even though there was construction, because they put up fenced areas for us to keep cattle in. If they had to take out some crops, which they did a little bit last year, they paid us for the acreage that was damaged. They've been very fair with us."

The wind farm is owned and operated by EDP Renewables, a clean energy company based Madrid, Spain, with U.S. headquarters in Houston, Texas. The company is the third-largest wind producing company in the world and has 37 wind farms in the U.S., Cheever said.

"The cost of our fuel is free from the wind," Cheever said. "It's good for the environment, it's sustainable. Wind will never run out, like some of our traditional power sources could. My opinion is that we need all the different forms of energy ... I think wind is a good supplement to the energy sources we have, so those traditional fuels that are not sustainable, or that can run out, they'll last longer if we supplement with wind."

Waverly Wind Farm has a 20-year power purchase agreement with Kansas City Power and Light Company, their only client. KCP&L offers electricity to 800,000 customers in the Kansas City area.

The farm's 95 wind turbines can produce 199 megawatts − enough energy for 55,000 average Kansas homes in a year, Cheever said. Five to six hours of one machine running is enough to power a single average household for the year.

Gary Preedy moved back to Waverly from Meade six years ago because of the heavier rainfall for their ranch. The couple has seven turbines on their 1,600 acres.

"The worst thing about it was probably the construction phase, which I'm sure was kind of tough," Preedy said. "Back here was probably one of the wettest years they chose to come in, and it was super muddy, a lot of rain. It was quite a process, a bigger process."

Preedy and his wife, Sherry, have about 100 acres of cropland, which rotates for growing corn, beans, and wheat.

"It provides a sustained income for farmers who have ups and downs in their incomes, based on how their crop yields," Cheever said.

The company also pays annual taxes to the county, which were $497,500 in 2015 and $507,450 in 2016.

The extra incomed helped avoid having to consolodate Lebo and Waverly schools, 15 minutes apart, said Christina Van Arsdale-Tyson, operations administrator at Waverly Wind Farm.

"Even those who didn't sign up (to participate in the project) still benefit," Van Arsdale-Tyson said.

Still, some residents were not happy.

"Some people said, 'Oh, the landscape will never be the same,' but so?" Steward said. "The landscape isn't the same as it was 50 years ago, anyway. "