Jim Moss 6/26/07 pullout at bottom
By Wally Kennedy
Empire District Electric Co. on Tuesday said it has signed a 20-year agreement with Horizon Wind Energy, of Houston, Texas, to purchase energy from the Meridian Way Wind Farm near Concordia, Kan. The farm will be operational in late 2008.
Empire said it will purchase about 350,000 megawatt-hours of energy annually from the project — enough to meet the annual electricity needs of about 25,000 homes.
Empire is the only utility that will purchase power from the wind farm in its initial phase of development.
The agreement is the second that Empire has reached for wind energy. In late 2005, Empire began purchasing energy from the Elk River Wind Farm near Beaumont, Kan. In 2006, Empire purchased 525,000 megawatt-hours from Elk River. It is the only purchaser of energy from that farm.
Empire officials project that almost 15 percent of its electrical energy will come from Elk River and Meridian Way in Cloud County, Kan., by 2009. Empire also has a 20-year contract with Elk River.
“We have always been interested in wind energy, but we could not do anything until it became a cost-effective resource for our customers,” said Amy Bass, spokeswoman for Empire.
“We believe this is a good opportunity for us and our customers. We believe you need a well-rounded resource mix, but it had to get to a point where the technology had been developed and refined.”
Bass said wind energy has become more viable as other energy sources have increased in cost. Federal incentives for the development of wind energy also make the price more attractive, she said.
Empire also is selling tax credits available for wind energy to utilities in states that require a portion of a utility’s energy portfolio to be renewable.
“We are selling those credits to reduce the cost of the energy to our customers,” Bass said. Those credits will be available to Empire in the future if it is required to provide energy from renewable sources.
Empire’s initial venture into wind energy at Elk River prompted criticism from the Audubon Society of Kansas, which said native prairie in the Flint Hills would be affected. The wind farm in north-central Kansas is less of a concern.
Ron Klataske, director of the Audubon Society of Kansas, said: “Those who have seen the site at Concordia have suggested it is certainly a more appropriate site than the Elk River site. With more than 8 million acres of cultivated landscape in Kansas, we would much prefer to see industrial wind farms on land that already has been altered.”
The group is concerned about the impact of the wind farms on raptors and prairie chickens.
Weighing in on the agreement between Empire and Horizon Wind Energy, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement: “I am delighted that Empire District Electric Co. has decided to develop a second wind project in Kansas. Wind projects are good for our economy, good for the environment, and a good business strategy for our electrical generation companies.”
Just months ago, Sebelius negotiated an agreement with the major electricity generators operating in Kansas to aggressively develop wind resources.
Brad Beecher, a vice president at Empire, said in a statement: “Today’s contract signing is a continuation of our long-range plan to ensure that our customers benefit from a balanced mix of generation options. This purchase from Cloud County provides our customers lower, stable prices, and gives us a decrease in exposure to natural gas and a hedge against any future global warming legislation.”
Michael Skelly, chief development officer with Horizon Wind Energy, said Empire will receive energy from the first phase of the two-phase Meridian Way Wind Farm, which will consist of a wind turbine designed to meet the high wind requirements of the site.
Construction is expected to begin in late 2007 or early 2008.
The wind farm will encompass about 9,000 acres in Cloud County, Kan., and will include at least 20 landowners.