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Small Town Turns to Wind Energy to Rebuild, Revitalize Community

June 25, 2012

Audio with Bob Dixson, mayor of Greensburg, Kansas (MP3 3.7 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:56.

On May 4, 2007, a tornado destroyed the small town of Greensburg, Kansas. When planning began to rebuild the town, the decision was made to pursue green energy. Mayor Bob Dixson says that decision was based upon wanting to be a stronger, more sustainable community and also going back to the legacy of the town's ancestors.

"Our ancestors were environmental stewards and took care of the resources that they had available when they settled the Midwest and the High Plains area. They knew all about wind and solar and geothermal and how to take advantage of that. It was a natural progression for us being Greensburg to look into those alternative energies of where they could fit into our sustainable master plan and at the same time leave legacy for future generations of being energy efficient and cost effective in our consumption."

Dixson says the town began working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in a matter of weeks after the tornado. He says it was the wind that blew the town away, and they wanted to know how they could utilize that wind to benefit the town for the future. Greensburg now has several wind energy projects including a 12.5-megawatt community wind farm and five, 50-kilowatt small wind turbines located in town—four of them on the main highway.

"Our 12.5 megawatt wind farm is a community wind farm that generates all of the electricity for the city of Greensburg, plus the extra that is generated goes on the grid. We belong to a Kansas power pool, an electric cooperative of 32 member cities, so they're able to say that part of their portfolio comes from alternative energies. We also have Renewable Energy Credits that certifies that our consumption is from alternative energy. That is a great selling point because if we're able to maintain our cost-per-kilowatt hour, we don't have to worry about fuel adjustment costs and those things. Greensburg is our own utility. We maintain our own internal system. Our electricity just comes off the grid."

Dixson says the local John Deere dealership now is the dealer of small and medium wind turbines for a 35 state area and six Canadian provinces. The local hospital, school, and motel along with the John Deere dealership, all are wind-generated to help alleviate their electric bills. Beyond better efficiency for the town, Dixson says the turbines along the landscape cause travelers passing through to stop and see what's going on in what he calls a living laboratory—his town.

The people of Greensburg have been very receptive to wind energy, according to Dixson, and they have been aware of wind energy in their region for the past 15 years.

"It was not a knee-jerk reaction. It was a natural progression. The citizens of Greensburg, their concern is as always, we want as most economical and sustainable electric rates as we can get. We also want long-term reliability of the combination of alternative energies and traditionally-generated electricity. But at the same time, it has to be cost effective, and that's where the commercial wind farms and the community wind farms are coming in and allowing us to do that."

In the town's sustainable master plan and long-term recovery plan, Dixson says the town identified all of its assets, values, and priorities. The environment was identified as a priority, and he says, the wind was identified as a tremendous resource. Dixson says the town understands it will have to keep a balance and combination of traditionally-generated electricity and alternative energy until it has the technology to store massive amounts of electricity. He says Greensburg ultimately wants to increase its percentage of alternative energy consumption and wean itself off of traditional energy consumption.

—Julie Jones