Windy Atchison County powers up with $500 million investment
Wind turbines are nothing new to the people of Atchison County.
In 2008, a small wind project helped the county seat, the small town of Rock Port, become the first community in the United States to run entirely on wind energy – which garnered some national headlines at the time.
But what started as a national curiosity and a point of local pride is emerging as an important economic engine for the region.
Enel Green Power North America is building a large-scale wind power farm in Atchison County this year, an investment of about $500 million.
Enel worked with Kansas-based Tradewind Energy to develop the Rock Creek Wind Project. Construction started last October. Currently, contractors are laying new roads and pouring foundations across the county in preparation for wind turbine delivery this spring.
By the end of the year, 150 new turbines will be up and spinning, generating enough energy to power more than 100,000 homes.
“Enel is thrilled to be contributing to Missouri’s growing wind economy, and we look forward to building, owning and operating a wind project that will be a catalyst for creating jobs and delivering significant economic benefits to the local economy,” said Rafael Gonzalez, head of the North American Area for Enel’s Global Renewable Energies Division.
The project is expected to generate 300 construction jobs this year and 15 permanent jobs once it’s complete.
Many landowners in the area will benefit from lease payments on the ground where the new turbines will stand. The project will also boost tax revenue in the area. This has Atchison County officials excited.
“The economic impact of Enel Green Power’s project will be felt for many years by not only our citizens and businesses but by the county and our political subdivisions that rely on the property taxes to provide services to the citizens we serve,” said Susette Taylor, Atchison County clerk.
Compared with neighboring states, Missouri’s wind resources appear underdeveloped. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Missouri’s current wind power generation ranks 25th in the nation. That’s despite Missouri sitting smack in the middle of four of the six top wind energy states: Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois and Kansas.
However, Conor Branch, senior manager of business development at Enel Green Power North America, points to Missouri’s 2015 Comprehensive State Energy Plan as a turning point that could spur more wind development here.
“The plan lays out key policy recommendations that foster sustainable growth in all forms of energy,” Branch said. “As a result, this is supporting job growth and economic development in many rural parts of the state, and the Rock Creek Wind Project is a great example of that.”
According to the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Missouri’s best wind resource is in Northwest Missouri, where Atchison County sits. However, wind quality is only one factor. Wind companies like Enel Green Power and Tradewind also consider the local business climate and the community’s attitude toward wind power before deciding to pursue a development.
Branch said Atchison County “not only boasts some of the best wind resources in the state but is also home to a welcoming local community and an extremely supportive group of landowners, who were integral to the development.”
Indeed, local leaders in the county were major boosters for the Rock Creek development.
“We are thrilled to see that the Rock Creek Wind Project has begun construction,” said Monica M. Bailey, executive director of the Atchison County Development Corp. “We look forward to continue working with Enel Green Power through construction and throughout the life of the project.”
Kansas City Power & Light was also instrumental in making the development happen. Once operational, Kansas City Power & Light and the KCP&L Greater Missouri Operations Company will purchase power from the wind farm.
Looking forward, Enel and others see the potential for much more wind power development in the state. If Missouri’s wind resources are fully developed, federal research shows that the state could someday break into the top 15 states for wind energy production.
“There are very positive indications for growth prospects in the region that make us and developers like Tradewind Energy very optimistic for the future,” Branch said. “We are always looking for new development opportunities, and we see a tremendous opportunity for growth in Missouri.”