Kelly reaffirms wind moratorium

Chad Frey
This week, Gov. Laura Kelly announced a proclamation reaffirming the Tallgrass Heartland wind moratorium region of the Flint Hills.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced a proclamation reaffirming the Tallgrass Heartland wind moratorium region of the Flint Hills on World Nature Conservation Day.

The area encompasses portions of 12 Kansas counties containing two-thirds of the world’s remaining tallgrass prairie.

“The Tallgrass Heartland moratorium helps conserve Kansas’ unique prairie ecosystem, vital to native wildlife, tourism, education and local ranching economies,” Kelly said. “There has been bipartisan consensus across administrations that these lands should be protected, and I’m pleased to follow in that tradition today.”

Area counties included in the area are Butler, Greenwood, Elk, Cowley, Marion and Chase counties. The region extends northward to Riley and Pottawatomie counties.

“The Flint Hills are home to some of our most breathtaking vistas and iconic prairie species, so it’s important we continue to protect this remarkable landscape and the many wildlife that inhabit it,” said Brad Loveless, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “The proclamation signed today by Governor Kelly is sure to be welcome news for residents and visitors, alike.”

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius first declared a wind development moratorium in parts of the Flint Hills in 2004 on the advice of the Kansas Geological Society and the Wind and Power Task Force.

In 2004, the southern Flint Hills were not protected. The Elk River Wind Energy Project proceeded on 8,000 acres south of Beaumont, and another 14,000 were used for the Caney River Wind Energy Project.

In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback expanded the protected area to its current size, naming it the “Tallgrass Heartland.”

The expansion included the southern Flint Hills and nearly doubled the total protected area.

According to the Kansas Audubon Society, the plan received broad-based support from Flint Hills ranchers, conservationists, power companies and governmental officials.

Audubon of Kansas, and an increasing number of other organizations and residents, expressed concern in 2002 when a number of windpower projects were proposed for the Flint Hills. Several proposals, each involving thousands of acres, extended 150 miles through the Flint Hills region. A 2004 report prepared by the Wind and Prairie Task Force, established by the State Energy Resources Coordination Council, called attention to areas of tallgrass prairie for preservation. That led to designation of the “Heart of the Flint Hills” as an area where there would be a moratorium on commercial-windpower development.

“Wind power will continue to be a key part of Kansas’ energy future,” Kelly said. “We can and should seek both to expand the development of clean energy like wind and solar while protecting the ecosystem and natural beauty of our tallgrass prairies for future generations.”

More than 15% of Kansas’ electricity comes from renewable energy, and Kansas has the second largest wind power potential of any U.S. state. The industry has grown substantially in recent years, more than tripling since 2008.