Wind: The Power. The Promise. The Business

Posted on July 24, 2008 

Wind: The Power. The Promise. The Business

A partial answer to America’s energy crisis is springing up. But the struggle to harness the winds of Kansas shows the difficulty in building an industry that threatens the status quo

It’s an ordinary day on Pete Ferrell’s 7,000-acre ranch in the Flint Hills of southeastern Kansas. Meaning, it’s really windy. When he drives his silver Toyota Tundra out of the canyon where the ranch buildings nestle, the truck rocks from the gusts. Up on top of a ridge, surrounded by a sweeping vista of low hills, rippling grass, and towering wind turbines that make you feel like a mouse scampering underfoot, Ferrell carefully navigates into a spot where the wind won’t damage the doors when they’re opened. Then he points to an old-style windmill, used for pumping water, which was erected by his father decades earlier when the ranch was in the throes of a drought. “That’s the windmill that saved us in the ’30s,” he explains, his voice growing husky with emotion.

Ferrell, 55, is a fourth-generation Kansan who looks the part. He’s slim with gray hair, squint-lines, and a cowboy hat. His great-grandfather established Ferrell Ranch on the high plains east of Wichita in 1888, and it has nearly failed several times over the years. Ferrell has held the place together through cattle grazing, oil wells, and, now, wind. He owns the land under 50 of the 100 turbines of the Elk River Wind Project, a 150-megawatt wind farm that opened in 2005.

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