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Wind farm may yield 10 new jobs

Towers may flash less often

Staff writer

Sunflower Wind is expected to begin generating energy in September and will employ about 10 technicians on site — jobs that Marion County residents conceivably could secure depending on their skills.

Completion of the project has been a long time coming, with litigious opposition, countersuits, and owners changing hands several times.

Technicians will report to GE because GE is turbine vendor for Sunflower Wind. Orsted, its Danish owner, does not discuss salaries, but federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2020 that the mean annual salary for wind turbine technicians for electric power generation, transmission, and distribution was $63,910.

“Whether or not employees are hired outside of the county depends on the local skill set available,” Charlotte Bellotte, an Orsted spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “Overall, these are typically well-paying, salaried jobs, with benefits, for the area, which can help retain people who wish to stay or bring people back to work in their hometown if they had to leave to find employment.”

Technicians must be able to climb inside turbines for inspections, repairs, and maintenance. They work outdoors, in confined spaces, and at great heights, the BLS noted. They also work on call in the evenings and weekends.

Construction of the wind farm is on schedule and going well, Bellotte and Kimberly Svaty, an Orsted consultant, said in a phone interview.

“One of the many benefits of clean energy is that it creates many new good jobs in rural Kansas,” Svaty wrote in a follow-up email. “The fastest-growing jobs in the United States are that of a wind turbine or solar farm technician.”

Svaty, who has worked in energy for 20 years and clean energy for 16, acknowledged that the project had a challenging history.

“I’m very familiar with all of the different iterations and ebbs and flows,” she said.

Florence resident Rex Savage initially led efforts to situate a wind farm in the southern part of the county.

Windborne Energy, of which Savage was a partner, initially owned Sunflower Wind. Sunwind purchased the project in 2013, but because of bankruptcy, defaulted on its contract with Windborne.

In 2019, National Renewable Solutions, a Michigan-based company, purchased it and named the project Expedition Wind.

Opponents to a wind farm started suing, filing their first lawsuit in 2019. Expedition Wind, which took over development, filed suit in 2020 against opponents who slowed down progress. A cease-fire agreement ended the lawsuits.

Orsted took over development of the wind farm in spring 2021, Bellotte said.

One of many concerns opponents voiced about a wind farm was red blinking lights required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA determines lighting solutions for wind projects, including the number of lights on each project, the color of lights and the frequency at which the lights blink on and off.

“Most of them blink every third turbine,” Svaty said. “They blink, then they’re off for three seconds.”

New light mitigation technology exists that allows turbines to blink only when aircraft are detected.

Legislation is under consideration by Gov. Laura Kelly that would require all new and existing wind farms to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install light mitigation technology. The bill ensures airplane safety while reducing the number of lights in the night sky, Bellotte explained. 

The FAA mandates that all tower structures 50 feet high or higher as well as center pivot irrigation systems install lighting systems for aircraft safety. 

“If we can use the technology that’s available … we want to do that,” Bellotte said. “This is technology that has been approved by the FAA. It is safe.”

Light mitigation could appease some people initially opposed to the project, Bellotte said.

“We view ourselves as a community partner,” she said. “We want the residents who live there to be comfortable. We want to work in places where we’re wanted to.”

Last modified April 12, 2023

 

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