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Greensburg, Kansas, Five Years Later—An International Inspiration for Green Disaster Recovery

Photo of a building.

The LEED-Platinum designed Kiowa County Commons building in Greensburg features 33 solar panels that generate 4.6 kilowatts of power.

May 2, 2012

May 4, 2012, marks the fifth anniversary of the day Greensburg, Kansas, was forever changed. On that day, an EF-5 tornado demolished the town, an agricultural community of about 1,400 in south-central Kansas. With 205-mph winds, the tornado cut a swath 1.5 miles wide and 22 miles long through the community. Eleven people were killed, and more than 90% of the city’s structures (including some historic buildings), most vehicles, and the electrical infrastructure were destroyed or damaged. Most of the residents were displaced from their homes and businesses.

When the initial shock subsided and it was time to start rebuilding, the townspeople realized that they had been afforded an opportunity—a chance to turn a tragedy into a triumph. Conversations began about rebuilding as a model “green” community, and the idea quickly picked up steam. Soon after the storm, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) dispatched a team, including energy experts from the agency and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) Integrated Deployment team, to Greensburg to assist the townspeople with the technical aspects of rebuilding green. The hard work began immediately, and many national and local institutions, agencies, industries, and individuals pitched in.

The DOE/NREL team played an instrumental role in making the opportunity a reality and wasted no time bringing a technical assistance plan of action to the city for key energy-related areas—just one month after the tornado. The goals of the DOE/NREL project included helping rebuild the city as a model community of clean, affordable, and energy-efficient technologies and buildings; facilitating renewable electricity generation for long-term, clean, and economical power; and supporting the reconstruction of Greensburg by providing access to information and materials to achieve national energy diversity and reliability goals.

DOE supported the project by supplying the funding for NREL’s technical work in Greensburg, which took place primarily from June 2007-May 2009, and encompassed various studies, recommendations, and plans. In addition, the team furnished specific guidance on individual projects, including several high-visibility buildings and design of a community wind system.

Now, five years later—Greensburg has become an international inspiration for green disaster recovery. Visitors from all over the world, including community leaders who are faced with disaster recovery in places like Japan, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri, come to the town to see examples they can replicate.

And Greensburg’s success doesn’t stop at the homes and buildings. The town’s rebuilding efforts have also spurred several economic development opportunities. The local John Deere dealership became a wind turbine distributor and formed a network throughout North America of dealerships expanding from tractors into wind turbines, generating many new jobs in the first nine months of operation. A U.S. solar company and a building products company from Germany both are vigorously pursuing financing for offices and manufacturing plants in Greensburg. In addition, another company is planning to build an additional wind farm 10 miles outside of town.

Visit the Greensburg website to learn more.

Did you know?

  • Over half of Greensburg’s new homes have been rated as using 40% less energy than code on average.
  • Greensburg has the highest per-capita concentration of LEED certified buildings in the United States, with 13 showcase buildings saving a combined total of $200,000 in energy costs annually. Read the brochure.
  • A 12.5-megawatt wind farm just outside town produces enough energy to power every house, business, and municipal building in Greensburg and beyond.
  • Greensburg showcases energy-saving best practices and renewable energy technology use that can be replicated not only in other communities recovering from disaster, but any location focused on sustainability.