Farmers near Flint Hills, Kansas are receiving help from environmental activist groups in their opposition to a proposed wind farm. The Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy have joined forces with area farmers to resist pressure from wind power lobbyists seeking the state government’s permission to build hundreds of giant turbines in the area.
Rare Grasslands at Risk
The proposed windmill site carries particular environmental significance in the region, the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy claim.
Observed Alan Pollom, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Kansas, “The Flint Hills are of particular note because of the rarity of the tallgrass prairie itself. It’s estimated that less than 4 percent of the original tallgrass prairie acreage still exists, and roughly two-thirds of that remaining is found in the greater Flint Hills. The tallgrass prairie is considered the most altered ecosystem in North America, in terms of the number of acres lost.
“The greater Flint Hills area is by far the largest tallgrass prairie landscape on the continent, with more acres remaining than in all the other prairie states and provinces combined,” Pollom further noted.
“Wind is a renewable, virtually inexhaustible, source of energy and it is available in many areas,” the Kansas Audubon Society added, in a written statement. “However, native prairie and prairie landscapes are not renewable, and certainly not inexhaustible. Once plowed or destroyed, they may never be experienced in that place again.”
Neither local citizens nor the local economy would benefit from the wind farm, according to The Nature Conservancy. “The first development complex proposal to go before a county planning commission in the Flint Hills is a 10,000 acre site near the small town of Rosalia in Butler County. Only two absentee landowners would benefit from lucrative leases,” said Pollom.
No Better than Other Industrial Structures
Pollom emphasized that large wind turbines, which can reach well over 30 stories high, despoil the area landscape no less than other forms of industrial development.
“It’s important to be thoughtful about where we choose to locate wind power facilities,” said Pollom. “Wind energy is no different than any other type of industrial development; there are appropriate and inappropriate places to locate it. I think most Kansans would agree that it is sensible to pursue the environmental benefits of renewable energy in a manner that doesn’t damage other equally important environmental, economic, or cultural values.”
Activist Groups Clash on Issue
The Flint Hills project and, on a larger scale, wind power in general, has caused a split among environmental activist groups. The national Sierra Club has voiced its support of wind power and the Flint Hills project, with Kansas Sierra Club spokesman Charles Benjamin referring to opponents of wind power as “elitist.”
Kansas Audubon Director Ron Klataske took exception to the Sierra Club criticism, telling the October 14 Greenwire, “It’s sad that the Sierra Club would mislead their membership that this is green energy, when it causes destruction.”
According to Greenwire, local farmers oppose the proposed Flint Hills wind farm. “I agree this a prime choice for a wind farm,” local rancher Jacque Sundgren told Greenwire, “but they can build it someplace else.”
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.