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The Republic: Brownback strikes deal with wind farm industry to expand Flint Hills protection area

Wichita, Kansas — More than twice as many acres of the nationally significant Flint Hills will be protected from wind farms under a deal Gov. Sam Brownback has reached with the state’s wind energy industry.

The newly expanded protected area encompasses 10,895 square miles of tallgrass prairie, up from the previous 4,673 square miles, and will run south to the Oklahoma border.

The Wichita Eagle reports the new area will be called the Tallgrass Heartland, and Brownback said extreme caution must be used to protect it. Most of the nation’s tallgrass prairie lies in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas.

“I do not, however, wish to convey a negative message about the future of wind energy in our state,” Brownback said Friday. “My administration will continue to work with wind developers and wholeheartedly support their activities in other parts of the state.”

The governor said existing wind farms that are operating in the protected area, and those that already have an agreement to operate there, will be allowed to fulfill their contracts. He said those projects will have “every opportunity” to renew those deals when they expire.

But they won’t be able to expand, he said.

Kansas had seven operating wind farms as of January, and a number of others are in the process of being developed.

Two of the affected wind farms are just east of Wichita. The Elk River Wind Facility began operating in 2005 in Beaumont in southeast Butler County, where it produces 150 megawatts of power. The Caney River Wind Project, about eight miles away in western Elk County, is under construction and expected to begin commercial operation by January with 111 turbines pumping out 200 megawatts.

Brownback said he got feedback from a broad-based coalition of Flint Hills ranchers, preservationists, wind developers, power companies and government officials when he was coming up with the new plan.

“From the beginning of our commitment to wind power, we’ve been equally committed to locating our wind farms in environmentally appropriate areas,” said Bill Moore, president and chief executive officer of Westar Energy, the state’s largest supplier of electricity.

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