Kansas Wind Power

J.S. and S.W. Aber

Cheryl Unruh
Dave Leiker

Table of contents
Spearville Wind Energy KAP conditions
Spearville (2008) Syracuse (2008)
Spearville II (2009-11) Related sites


Wind power is a form of green energy that requires no fuel and emits no pollution to the air, water or ground. The United States has the wind resources to develop this type of energy considerably in the near future, as part of a long-term strategy for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. In fact, Kansas could become the third leading producer of wind energy, behind California and Texas. This potential has been developed rapidly in recent years with construction of several wind-power facilities, particularly in the High Plains of southwestern Kansas, as well as other parts of the state--see Kansas wind power map.

Spearville Wind Energy Facility

In November 2008, we had an opportunity to investigate Kansas wind power at the Spearville Wind Energy Facility, assisted by our friends, Dave Leiker and Cheryl Unruh. Spearville is a small town located in Ford County about 15 miles (25 km) northeast of Dodge City. This region is considered to be the most windy in the United States, which explains the high interest in developing additional wind power in the vicinity.

Ground shot of wind-power turbines at the Spearville Wind Energy Facility. View toward north with winter wheat field in foreground.

Spearville has long been known as the Home of Windmills, a designation that dates from the days of small windmills used to pump ground water for irrigation and livestock. This tradition now has a new dimension with wind-power generation of electricity.

Billboard on U.S. highway 50/56 at Spearville, Kansas.
Modern wind turbines can be seen in the background.

The Spearville Wind Energy Facility was developed by enXco and is operated by Kansas City Power and Light Company; the facility was completed in October 2006. It includes 67 wind turbines spread over an area of about 5000 acres. Individual turbines each take up about 1 acre of land; most of the remainder of the site is farmed with winter wheat and other crops. The site was endorsed by The Nature Conservancy and Audubon of Kansas for minimal impact on wildlife.

Each of the General Electric turbines may produce up to 1 megawatts of power; total power production is more than 100 megawatts, enough for 33,000 homes (KCP&L brochure). The turbines consist of four main components:

  1. Tower standing 262 feet (80 m) high; made in Texas.
  2. Three blades, each 121 feet (37 m) long; made in Texas.
  3. Motor (nacelle) that generates electricity; made in Florida.
  4. Controller system; manufactured in California.

When fully extended, the tower and vertical blade reach a maximum height of 391 feet (119 m) above the ground. The turbines are arranged in rows between agricultural fields. Electricity from individual turbines is carried via underground lines and then collected in overhead power lines that connect to electrical substations. From there, the electricity is distributed into the regional power grid.

Spearville KAP conditions

The Spearville turbines are designed to turn on at a minimum wind speed of 8 mph, which equates to blade rotation of about 6 seconds per full revolution (10 rpm). From prior experience, we know that turbine rotation at 4 to 5 seconds per revolution (12 to 15 rpm) represents optimum wind speed (10-15 mph) for KAP. We previously conducted KAP at the Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma about 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Spearville. At Montezuma, we discovered erratic wind currents in close proximity to the huge turbines. We quickly learned to keep our kite some distance away!

These factors were important for selecting a KAP site at Spearville. We found a small public cemetery with an open portion located about one mile (1 km) north of Spearville near the center of the energy facility, but well away from any turbines. When we arrived in mid-morning, a light breeze was blowing from the southwest, and turbines were rotating about 5 seconds per revolution--good for lifting our light-weight Canon Elph camera rig with a large rokkaku kite. We also briefly used our heavier Canon S70 camera rig, but lack of stronger sustained wind limited its success.

Kap crew launches from the corner of a cemetery. In the background wind turbines, transmission lines, and a substation are visible. The grain elevators of Spearville can be seen on the far left horizon. Crew from left: Dave Leiker, J.S. Aber, Cheryl Unruh, and S.W. Aber. Cheryl is photographing the camera rig and kite from the ground. Note the long shadows typical for this time of year.

Soon after launching, wind speed diminished; turbines slowed to 6 seconds per revolution, and some turned off. We had considerable difficulty keeping the KAP rig in the air. Nonetheless, we achieved camera heights of 200 feet (60 m) up to 350 feet (105 m), as shown in the pictures below.

Ground views of the kite flyers.
SWA left & JSA right on each.
Photos courtesy of C. Unruh.

FlyoverPeople Daily News.

As we brought the kite down for the last time around noon, wind shifted to the west and weakened still more. During the next hour, wind continued shifting to the northwest and north, and then increased to 25-35 mph. This was quite evident as dust began blowing from bare fields and tumbleweeds were racing across the highway, colliding with our car and other vehicles! So we were fortunate to conduct KAP while the wind remained favorable.

KAP of Spearville Wind Energy Facility (2008)
View toward north. Wind turbines are about half a mile away. Winter wheat is growing in green fields. Note farm complex to lower right; it is protected from the north wind by rows of planted cedar trees in an otherwise treeless, short grass prairie.
View toward the northeast. Camera position is above the wind turbine towers at ~350 feet (105 m) height. Note how little land is necessary for each turbine, which allows continued agriculture.
Two rows of wind turbines are visible in this view toward the northwest. Camera is well above the transmission lines (lower left).
Closeup view of electrical substation (left) and maintenance building (right) on the southern side of the cemetery. Note the shadow of the U.S. flag on the building roof.
View toward the northeast showing a corner of the cemetery in the foreground with wind turbines in the background. Camera position is slightly below turbine motors at ~200 feet (60 m) height.
Detail of cemetery looking toward northwest showing tombstones facing eastward (lower right) and laid out in neat N-S rows. Near bottom center of view, the top of a traditional windmill is visible between cedar trees (see next two images).
Closeup, near-vertical shot of the old windmill surrounded by cedar trees at center of cemetery. Note shadow of windmill tower extending toward upper right.
Ground view of traditional windmill and cedar trees in cemetery with modern wind turbine in the background.

Title image: harvesting wind power in the High Plains. The tip of the upright blade of the central turbine stands about 390 feet (119 m) above the ground, more than the full length of a football field including both end zones (360 feet).

Syracuse, Kansas (2008)

After leaving Spearville, we traveled westward on U.S. highway 50 through Dodge City and Garden City, coming eventually to Syracuse in Hamilton County close to the border with Colorado. There we found a shipment of Vestas V90 wind turbines being unloaded from a train and prepared for local transport on trucks. Vestas is a Danish company that also has manufacturing plants in the U.S. Vestas turbines are used widely around the world, including wind farms in Kansas and other states.

The enormous size of the components is evident from the special railway carriages and truck trailers necessary to transport them. These Vestas turbines were in route to the new Central Plains Wind Farm under construction nearby in Wichita County (Nov. 2008). However, limited time and unfavorable weather prevented us from visiting the construction site that day.

Overview of railroad off-loading site at Syracuse, Kansas. The large crane is used to lift blades and motors from rail cars and place them on truck trailers.
Susie standing next to blades stored on the ground, waiting for loading onto special truck trailers.
Single turbine blade on a special, extra-long truck trailer in background, and empty rail car in foreground.
Closeup view of wind-turbine motors stored on the ground, waiting for loading onto semi-truck trailers.
Turbine blades (left) and motor (center) loaded on trucks for local transport, and empty rail cars to right. The tumbleweeds in foreground attest to the dry, windy climate of this region.
Truck driver skillfully negotiates a highway intersection in Syracuse, while traffic is stopped to allow the long turbine blade to pass.
Large U.S. flag flying in 25-35 mph wind gusts at the center of Syracuse. Too much wind for kite aerial photography!

Central Plains Wind Farm (2009-10).

Spearville II Wind Project

While passing through southwestern Kansas in late November 2009, we noticed an expansion underway at the Spearville Wind Energy Facility (see
above). Turbine components were arranged in a staging area just off US highway 50/56 a short distance northeast of the existing facility. We stopped briefly to take some ground pictures under mostly cloudy and foggy conditions--no chance for kite aerial photography.

Ground shots from US highway 50/56
Looking across a field of winter wheat. Turbine blades and loading cranes can be seen, and standing turbines in the existing facility are barely visible through the fog in the background.
Ground shots from public county road
Left: rotor hubs in foreground and left side, wrapped in plastic. This is the part the blades attach to. Some tower sections can be seen in right background. Right: closeup view of crane used for on- and off-loading turbine components on truck trailers.
Left: closeup view of a nacelle. This is the housing that contains the generator, control panel, gearbox, brake, and other devices. The nacelle is about the size of a large school bus. Right: tower sections with ends wrapped in plastic.

As of July 2011, construction of the Spearville II Wind Project appears to be largely completed. Sixty-seven GE 1.5 MW wind turbines were added immediately east of the original Spearville Wind Facility, which doubles the number of turbines and generating capacity of the wind farm.

Ground panorama of new wind turbines at Spearville.
Taken from one mile east looking toward the west.

Left: closeup ground shot of the new wind turbines.
Right: nacelle and rotor hub at the top of a tower.

Related sites

Text and images © J.S. and S.W. Aber

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Last update: July 2011.