Farmers want to take advantage of the wind

Tim Vandenack, Hutchinson News, May 18, 2005

The owners of a hog operation in Meade County see wind in their future.

In light of high energy costs, operators of Kansas-Smith Farms plan to put up two 120-kilowatt wind turbines to help power two hog farms about eight miles south of Plains.

"The wind blows out here, and we thought we should use it," said Mark Clemmer, the general manager of Kansas-Smith. "We need to harness what we've got instead of burning coal and gas and everything else."

Parts for the wind structures already are arriving, and Clemmer said the turbines should be up and running by July. Depending on how successful the effort is, Kansas-Smith might put up more turbines to help power additional farms it operates in adjacent Seward County.

"If it works out right, we'll probably put the others on them," said Clemmer, whose company investigated the use of wind power for a year before moving forward with the plans.

Kansas-Smith, part of a family-owned operation out of Garland, N.C., decided to harness wind power given the high cost here of more traditional forms of energy - more than double what the company pays in Georgia, for instance, Clemmer said.

The turbines will provide a source of electricity to power ventilators and pumps at the Meade County farms. What's more, the turbines will be able to help power space heaters in the winter, precluding or reducing the need for natural gas, added Dale Jones of Hesston-based Enertech, which is supplying the technology.

"Any power that (the turbines) displace is 10 cents per kilowatt (Kansas-Smith) didn't have to buy from an energy company," said Jones, referring to the rough retail cost of energy. He said the Kansas-Smith operation could pay for itself via reduced utility bills within eight years.

"It's like prepaying electricity," Clemmer said.

The strong winds that blow across Kansas, particularly in the western part of the state, make wind power particularly viable here. Still, the Gray County Wind Farm near Montezuma is the only large-scale wind farm in the state, and even smaller operations like the one planned by Kansas-Smith are few and far between here.

"I would say they are probably one of the first in the state to do it at that scale," Jones said. "It's unique in that commercial, private enterprises have not yet installed turbines for their use."

The 120-kilowatt capacity of the turbines planned for Kansas-Smith far exceeds the capacity of turbines typically used at homes, usually 5 to 10 kilowatts. The capacity of each windmill in Gray County, by contrast, measures some 660 kilowatts, Jones said.

The Kansas-Smith wind structures, which have a price tag of about $125,000 each, will measure some 90-feet from top to bottom, and the blades will have a diameter of about 60 feet.