Caney River Wind Project

Elk County, Kansas

James S. Aber and David Leiker

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Wind farm setting

Our first kite aerial photography venture for 2012 took place in early March with a visit to the Caney River Wind Project in western Elk County, south-central Kansas. The weather forecast called for strong wind in the afternoon, so we got an early start in order to conduct KAP in the mid-morning. We found a small cemetery with public access about 1½ miles north of the wind farm.

Ground view from the Clear Creek Cemetery toward the Caney River Wind Project on the horizon. The wind farm is situated on a prominent hill that stands more than 250 feet (~75 m) above the foreground terrain.

The wind farm is located on a cuesta, which is a flat-topped hill much like a plateau or mesa, that stands above adjacent terrain. The eastern margin of the cuesta is marked by an escarpment (steep slope). Together the escarpment and cuesta form a distinctive step in the landscape. The cuesta is bounded on the west and south by headwater streams of the Caney River.

The Americus Limestone caps the cuesta on which the wind farm is situated (red asterisk). The Americus is the basal member of the Council Grove Group (Pcg) and contains abundant chert (flint) in this location. The abundance of chert here marks the easternmost edge of the Flint Hills. Map adapted from Kansas Geological Survey.
The Americus Limestone forms a distinctive stone line around the edge of the escarpment (left). Chert (flint) weathered from the Americus forms a resistant cap on the cuesta surface (right).

Kite aerial photography

We flew a small rokkaku kite on moderate to fresh breezes (15-25 mph) to lift the Canon S70 camera rig. The eastern edge of the cuesta reaches above 1450 feet in elevation, whereas our flying site at the cemetery is only 1190 feet. Thus, while the kite may have flown several hundred feet above the cemetery, the camera barely reached hub height of the wind turbines on the horizon.

Panoramic overview assembled
from two wide-angle shots.

A preliminary round of photographs was successful under mostly sunny sky, so we decided to take a second round of pictures with the same kite/camera combination. All went well until we started to bring the kite down. At that point, wind speed increased sharply (25-35 mph); the kite and camera landed abruptly in the neighboring pasture. In spite of this mishap, we acquired many good panoramic shots of the wind farm. Thereafter we toured the vicinity on the ground, as wind gusted to gale force (>35 mph) and clouds increased during the afternoon—typical March weather in the Great Plains!

View toward southeast. The position of the turbines on the cuesta is clearly shown by the steep slope down to lower land in the foreground and to left.

View southward. The electrical substation is located just right of the road in the middle distance at the bottom of the hill below the wind farm. It is situated next to a regional transmission line.

View toward southwest. The two nearest wind turbines (just right of center) are at the northern end of the wind farm. The steep slope on the side of the cuesta is covered by forest with bare trees in this late winter view.

Wind energy resource

The Caney River Wind Project was developed by TradeWind Energy and is owned by Enel Green Power North America. The wind farm includes 111 Vestas V90 turbines that have a total nominal generating capacity of 200 megawatts (MW). The turbine towers stand 80 m (~260 feet) tall, and the blades are 44 m (~144 feet) long. Electricity produced at the Caney River Wind Project feeds into a regional transmission line and is sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority for its customers in the southeastern U.S.

Ground shots
The Caney River Wind Project was under construction in the autumn of 2011, and most is now operational (left), but we saw some construction still underway during our visit (right). The big fin on the nacelle (motor housing) is for cooling purposes.
Steep escarpment on the eastern edge of the wind farm. Vestas V90 turbines have distinctive curved blades (left). Note typical agricultural land use for cattle grazing on the tallgrass prairie (right).
Electrical substation for the wind farm. Left: overview of taken from the edge of the hill immedately to the south. Right: closeup shot with the transmission line in front of the substation.
Regional transmission line that serves both the Caney River and nearby Elk River wind farms (left). Some might regard this kind of structure as industrial art (right).
Access to the wind farm was restricted on private land posted no trespassing. A few public roads allowed us to approach closely, however. Roads like this are typical in the Flint Hills region.

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All text and images © by the authors.
Last update March 2012.