What happens when two different green interests clash? A recent dust-up in Kansas over the Tallgrass Heartland has left wind energy companies and county officials in a quandary and with no clear environmental winner in advancing green interests in the state.
Gov. Sam Brownback recently expanded the area off-limits to wind turbines in the Flint Hills, a sweeping expanse of tallgrass prairie where wind is plentiful and easy to harvest. His concern is to protect the remaining four percent of the prairies that once covered America and promote eco-tourism in the area. Surprisingly, he has the backing of the Wind Coalition, which represents all but one of Kansas's operating wind turbine companies.
But landowners and county officials affected by the decision are having none of it because of the impact the decision has on economic development. Cowley County, which has spent the last decade trying to lure wind technology and even had a wind farm planned, has had to now scrap its plan, slated to build out in an area that now falls in the off-limits territory. Officials are now bemoaning the potential loss of jobs and construction-related revenue such a project could have generated.
However, the Flint Hills is, as Brownback calls it, an "ecological jewel" with a widely studied and sensitive eco-system. He's betting on the increase in tourism-related activities that the prairie could lure, such as horseback riding, hiking and biking on some of the most gorgeous trails in the state. Conservationists are thrilled. As they maintain, the entire western half of Kansas, which is also flat and windy, is ripe for the picking as far as they're concerned. Let the wind farm companies take their farms there and leave the Flint Hills out of it.
Like the frequent Kansas tornadoes, it's a storm that's sure to keep blowing and one that will leave a lot of hard feelings and monetary repercussions in its path. My hope is that it doesn't derail the fledgling alternative energy OR conservation efforts that already have such a tough fight in this state.