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Wind farm commits $2 million to conserving prairie

Staff writer

Cattle cluster in a clump of trees, seeking shade, turbines from Sunflower Wind Farm towering over them in every direction.

Just across 110th Rd., square bales of hay are stacked on top of each other just inside a field.

Sunflowers and native grasses line ditches.

Renewable energy meets an older way of life on either side of a gravel country road.

Orsted, which owns the wind farm and 12 others around the country, recently announced a pilot project to protect and restore 3,000 acres of native tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills.

The Danish company is giving The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy $2 million for the project. Orsted has committed to building clean energy in a sustainable way to create a net-positive impact on biodiversity starting in 2030.

Not all of the 3,000 acres will be in Marion County, but some will.

“This initiative is important for us because it’s the first to put our net-positive biodiversity goal into practice on the ground in America,” Daniel Willard, Orsted’s regional biodiversity specialist said.

We’ve measured potential biodiversity impacts of Sunflower Wind Farm and come up with a strategy to restore and protect habitat on the world’s largest remnant of tallgrass prairie. So we see this as a win-win for Kansas’s energy needs and Flint Hills prairie.” 

Ginny Moore, Kansas state director for The Conservationn Fund, is electrified about the project.

“It’s going to be a wonderful model, and I think it’s really exciting to showcase that model in Kansas,” Moore said. “This is a chance for the state of Kansas to really shine, and I’m excited about that.”

Orsted and its partners will work with landowners who are interested in conserving and restoring grasslands in the Flint Hills.

“The tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills owes much of its persistence to its ranching heritage,” Orsted wrote in a news release.

In an interview, Orsted communications adviser Charlotte Bellotte added: “We understand that in order to tackle the climate crisis, we need to build out renewable energy resources, but we don’t want to do that at the loss of biodiversity.”

Sunflower Wind Farm is expected to be operational at the end of September.

“We’ll take what we learn and further define our long-term goal,” Bellotte said. We really believe clean energy and conservation is a win-win strategy. Building out clean energy is going to require a lot of land. We want to make sure we’re building renewable energy responsibly with protection of natural habitats in mind.”

The Conservation Fund will “deploy this Orsted grant money into what we call customized conservation agreements with landowners in the Flint Hills,” Moore said.

“We’ll also work local land trusts in Kansas,” Moore said. “Some of them have projects they want to do but don’t have the money to do it. It will be the local land trusts that monitor these conservation agreements for the long term.

“In the long run, it’s the local relationships that are the most important. “

Last modified Sept. 1, 2023

 

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