SMOKY HILLS, Kan. – “The hell is that?”
It was after dark in Kansas, just me and truckers on the road, as I like it.
Besides a short and incredible storm near the Colorado border—again, I suspected hail was involved but didn’t stop to investigate—our day in Kansas had been all I had hoped for: tornado free. If you think I’m vocal about my dislike of mountains, you should ask me about my fear of tornadoes.
Armed with the weather app Wunderground and a plan to spend the night in Salina, we’d made it nearly halfway across the state without incident. Then, on the black horizon—stretching the entire width of the world—hundreds of synchronized blinking red lights appeared.
We had a theories: An alien landing strip. A time machine. A plot to distract drivers and run them off the road to be picked off by zombies. The end of Kansas. The end of the world.
We were trapped. Behind and to each side, there was nothing but farmland. Salina was on the other side of those lights. If there was anything on the other side.
We drove for a long time and they still seemed so far away. I took some comfort in the evidence that there was a world of some sort beyond the thin red line: there were plenty of trucks on the other side of the highway and they had to come from somewhere.
“Windmills,” Melani finally said, and I nearly relaxed. “That’s a lot of windmills.”
It didn’t seem as though we’d gotten any closer, but suddenly they weren’t where I expected them to be, in front of me.
“Where’d they go?” I demanded of Trevor, who was riding shotgun. “Were they Called Home?”
“No, Mom. They’re all around us. We’re in the middle of them.”
I took my eyes off the road and horizon to peer out my window. Above, a million stars. Nearer to Earth, flanking and behind us, hundreds of red eyes blinking in tandem. I said something deep and meaningful that came directly from my heart.
I think it was: “Oh shit.”
* * *
When we left Colorado Springs that morning, our gracious and fun host Melle had told us we’d pass a large wind farm. We had, back in Colorado—probably a hundred of them spread out on the Plains in daylight.
But what we drove into on the way to Salina was the Smoky Hills farm, about 250 windmills spread over the farms of 100 landowners.
Of its 740 plants in 16 countries, Smoky Hills is Enel Green Power’s biggest, generating enough power to light up 85,000 homes annually. Kansas is second only to Texas in American wind potential, and these great, beautiful beasts only remove about two per cent of the land from agricultural service, according to Italy-based Enel’s website.
There will be more: In July, Enel announced a U.S.-based consortium led by JP Morgan would provide $260 million to fund the Buffalo Dunes project in Kansas.