Could a wind farm be located over the Equus Beds?

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Garrett Smith of Pratt lifts tool bags into the nacelle of a Siemens Gamesa 2.3 megawatt wind turbine in the Pratt Wind Energy Center, which came online in 2019.

Gina Bell, director of the Harvey County Planning and Zoning Department, brought forth a concern Sept. 21 with a wind farm that is being considered for Harvey County. 

Bell notified The Equus Beds Groundwater Management District No. 2, what was referred to as GMD2 in the commission, that the wind energy project may be considering construction over the Equus Beds. 

"You really need to think about the water and the safety of the water supply," Bell said. "... We want to make sure that we don't harm the water supply."

The Equus Beds Groundwater Management District No. 2  is located in south central Kansas and underlies portions of McPherson, Harvey, Reno and Sedgwick counties. It is 878,720 acres in size and includes: 167,680 acres in western Harvey County; 140,160 acres in southern McPherson County; 460,800 acres in eastern Reno County; and 110,080 acres in northwestern Sedgwick County.

Bell contacted representatives of the city of Wichita, Reno County, McPherson county and state regulators in preparation of possible needed permit reviews. 

Under county regulations for renewable energy, all projects must consult with and be permitted by Equus Beds Groundwater Management District No. 2.

"I think that is the direction that all of that will go. I am not advising anyone on this," Bell said. "[However], my stance is there should not be any over the Equus Beds because we just don't know if that would cause a problem. If we got into that [project] and went 'Oh, my, hey that is a problem,' it would be a disaster before it got started. I can't think that is OK."

One week prior to Tuesday's commission meeting Fiona Bagwell. Renewable energy officer for NextEra Energy, approached the Harvey County Commission  to inform them the company is beginning analysis of Harvey County. . 

The size, scope and location of the project are not known. 

"Wind and solar projects of this size take several years to develop," Bagwell said.

At this time the company is doing "desktop analysis" — trying to determine what land will be most conclusive to development. There is not a specific targeted area for development at this time. 

NextEra representatives met with Bell after that commission meeting. Bell supplied the company with maps of the county and Equus Beds information. 

The company is expected to begin land acquisition next year, a process that takes about one year to complete. 

We usually work with every landowner, whether they prefer a sale or a lease," Bagwelll said. "... Wind farms are compatible with farming and ranching. ... [A turbine] takes only about one acre out of production. It is a great way for a farmer to diversify."

Bagwell said most properties are leased. Following land acquisition, the company will go through a permitting process — working with county planning and zoning to get all needed permits.

"We follow local, state and federal regulations," Bagwell said. 

Construction is, at least, three years away. If the project is constructed, it will take between six and nine months to complete. 

NextEra has constructed wind farms in Kingman, Pratt, Ellis, Marshall and Nemaha counties. 

In 2019 the company finished  the Pratt Wind Energy Center in the southwest part of Pratt County. Ninety-eight Siemens Gamesa turbines and eight GE turbines, capable of generating 245 megawatts of electricity that can power 73,500 homes per year were put  in place. The rotor diameter of the Siemens Gamesa turbines is 108 meters. Each turbine weighs approximately 633,707 pounds.

Construction on the wind project lasted approximately seven months and was completed in November 2018. During construction, the project created 250 construction jobs. With   the wind farm is operational, 12 full-time jobs are required for daily maintenance.