For centuries, farmers in Kansas looked to the horizon and gazed into the future. Today, that skyline is filling with a new horizon for Kansas–wind turbines. Kansas ranks 6th in the U.S. for generating wind energy. By 2017, nearly one-third of your energy will come from wind.
Westar and its wind farms are creating 4,900 new jobs and adding $81 million into local economies. Read the full story below to discover how this investment in clean energy is powering the winds of change for Spearville, Kansas.
When you walk around in Spearville, Kansas, you can’t help but notice the wind’s fierce breath gusting all around you. Well, unless you’re from Spearville. Then, the wind is as familiar as the friendly faces you see all around town. Because this is a place where everybody knows everybody. Where every driver waves as they pass by. And where every direction you look, you see wind turbines twirling on the horizon.
For Westar Energy, the wind in this town of about 800 people is a resource that’s perfect to create renewable energy. Much of the power you use already comes from wind farms here in Spearville and in other cities throughout Kansas. But soon, it will be even more.
Much of the power you use already comes from wind farms here in Spearville and in other cities throughout Kansas. But soon, it will be even more.
Westar Energy is adding more than 120 wind turbines in Spearville to generate more clean energy. So when this new wind farm comes online at the end of 2016, nearly one-third of your energy will come from the wind. A few years ago, that would be unheard of, but now, it’s a reality.
Don Hornung grew up not far from Spearville. Now, he’s a business and land owner who will soon have more turbines on his acreage. His white hair, seemingly shaped by years in the wind, arcs gracefully backward as he talks about the future of wind energy in Spearville.
“This is not a short-term deal,” Don says. “These towers are put in with the expectations of 30 to 40 years of generating electricity. That’s 30 to 40 years of excitement.”
…it can be harnessed in a more environmentally friendly way that’s completely renewable.
It’s no secret that there’s an abundance of wind in this part of the world. And for Don, wind is as much of a natural energy resource as oil, natural gas or coal, but it can be harnessed in a more environmentally friendly way that’s completely renewable.
Don isn’t shy about being a fan of clean energy. He likes that Westar is taking the initiative to implement it. “Westar is certainly pursuing wind energy very aggressively even without mandates forcing it,” Don says. “I think Westar, as a company, needs to be complimented and commended for the fact that they are pursuing green energy.”
Westar Energy drives the Kansas wind economy to not only generate clean energy to power our state, but to also generate income for the hardy people who own land just as many of their ancestors did.
It’s a win-win for everyone. Landowners get revenue, and Westar generates clean, renewable energy.
Here’s how a wind farm works for a landowner. Meteorologists study the topography of the land and place each turbine in the most optimal geographic location to catch the most wind. If one of those locations ends up on your land and you agree to it, Westar pays you royalties to harvest wind energy from the turbine on your property. It’s a win-win for everyone. Landowners get revenue, and Westar generates clean, renewable energy.
Watch more: How a Wind Turbine Works
Wes Mizell is the manager of wind site operations for Westar Energy, or in other words, Wes acts as the boots on the ground to oversee this wind farm and its construction for Westar.
“I love the fact that we're cleaning up the environment,” Wes says. “I love the fact that we're constructing new generating facilities in the state of Kansas. And I like the fact that we're creating jobs in the small communities.”
Wes grew up in Hays but left western Kansas because there wasn’t much opportunity in that part of the state when he was younger. But today, he’s excited about how the wind and renewables business is growing the economy and creating jobs in western Kansas.
…the wind and renewables business is growing the economy and creating jobs in western Kansas.
“It brings well-paying jobs to rural areas,” he says. “It gives some of the local folks an opportunity to get a good-paying job, be able to stay in their community and be where they want to be. They don’t have to leave and go to a bigger city.”
Some may say that Spearville is in the middle of nowhere, but locals will tell you it’s just 17 miles east of Dodge City. For rural towns like this, a lack of proximity to well-paying jobs can make it a struggle to keep young people and draw in new residents. Westar and its wind farms creating 4,900 jobs and pumping $81 million into local economies can greatly improve the possibilities for Kansans in these communities.
Numbers like that don’t go unnoticed. In fact, in a town this size, not much goes unnoticed. So it’s obvious to Spearville Mayor Kevin Heeke what these wind farms mean to his town.
“There’s a lot of jobs. There’s a lot of jobs that are available for construction, and working with the wind turbines afterwards,” Kevin says. “As a matter of fact, there’s quite a few kids who graduated from Spearville who are now working for the current wind farms.”
Kevin is a laid-back man who seems more comfortable in his Carhartt jacket than a suit and tie. He doesn’t even have a desk in city hall, he just makes space wherever he can find it–maybe because he grew up with nine brothers and sisters. In addition to his civic duties, Kevin also spends his time helping one of his brothers farm, so Kevin knows firsthand what the wind farms do for the community on all levels.
In a place where wind is such a constant, it’s fitting that wind seems to link the past, the present and the future in Spearville. Even before it became a boomtown for modern wind turbines, the city was known as the home of windmills.
“Spearville has been known as the city of windmills from the early 1900s,” Kevin said. “Most houses in town had a windmill in their backyard. They didn’t have electricity to get water, so the wind was the easiest way to do it.”
In just a few generations, Spearville went from completely off the grid, to helping Westar supply renewable energy to power the state. But it may be the current generation that benefits the most from how Westar and these wind farms are boosting local schools.
Putting in a wind farm is a complicated endeavor because you have to coordinate with the landowners, railroad, water company, gas company and the county. In Spearville, part of that process for Westar included making a pilot payment to Ford county, which serves as an investment in schools.
Daryl Stegman is the superintendent for the local Spearville school district that reaps the benefits of this funding.
In just a few generations, Spearville went from completely off the grid, to helping Westar supply renewable energy to power the state.
“The wind energy companies have made these agreements that they're going to make an investment in the community,” Daryl says. “I think it speaks highly that they want to be part of Spearville. They have a true investment in the community, and I think people believe that they are making an investment for Spearville.”
So far, that’s translated into building six new classrooms, a wood shop, art building, bus barn, football lockers and a new gym for the school. And while these things are just brick and mortar, they mean so much more to the kids and the community.
Daryl tells the story of how some people in town wouldn’t attend games at the old, undersized gym. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to come, quite the opposite, but space was so limited that they didn’t want to steal a seat from a parent or a grandparent who wanted to watch their kid play. Now, the school finally has a facility that’s big enough to bring the whole town together.
Watch more: Supporting Spearville Schools
“What an awesome opportunity for this community to have this gym,” Daryl says. “It's become a gathering place for people that have purposely stayed away because in our previous gym, we didn’t have the room for people to come gather.”
Wind energy is also creating opportunities to connect in and out of the classroom with new technology.
Wind energy is also creating opportunities to connect in and out of the classroom with new technology. For the school, this is new territory and an exciting possibility. In fact, Daryl says Westar helped give the school an opportunity to do some things that other schools just haven’t been able to do.
“One such opportunity is a one-on-one laptop initiative,” he says. “We feel comfortable moving forward with that because it appears we have the new agreement with Westar, and that's going to give us another opportunity to have additional funding.”
This is a town that takes great pride in preserving its values and sustaining the school. Westar and wind development have helped the community work toward that goal, while also improving the quality of education that will be passed on to the next generation.
“These are my kids, and when my kids get out of here, I want them to be successful,” Daryl says. “Ultimately, they're the ones that are going to be supporting everybody. You've got to care enough for those kids that they want to be part of who you are.”
When you visit Spearville, you never really get over seeing so many majestic turbines all around you. As you transfix your gaze on these titans of the plains, they have a way of drawing you into their swirling spell. But for the town, they’ve become one more familiar face in the landscape, and a way to harness the wind that has come to define this area and its future.
For Westar Energy and Kansas, producing clean, renewable energy that reduces our carbon footprint preserves this great state for our kids and our grandkids.
For Westar Energy and Kansas, producing clean, renewable energy that reduces our carbon footprint preserves this great state for our kids and our grandkids. It’s why wind is so important to Kansans. At Westar, wind is also a part of our future, so we’ll keep harnessing it to power lives and continue to expand the horizons for Kansas.