Local utility company Westar Energy (NYSE: WR) has been in headlines in recent weeks for a proposed deal that would allow it to be acquired by Great Plains Energy, which operates Kansas City Power and Light Company.
What isn’t often as well-publicized about the company, however, is the relationship it has with hunters, anglers, conservationists and other outdoors enthusiasts in the community — particularly as it pertains to the Jeffrey Energy Center facility and the property surrounding it.
Westar says it expects $40 million in savings on capital and operational costs over 15 years with the sustainable wetland system, which helps conserve water by reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 97 percent. Water is initially treated in the traditional wastewater treatment plant, where sulfate is removed from the water before being released into the wetland treatment process. While in the wetlands, the system targets and removes metals from the water before it is then returned to the plant for re-use. The system in 2014 earned Westar an Edison Award, which is the electric power industry’s most prestigious honor, and helps sustain a natural ecosystem where wildlife can thrive.
The center’s wildlife area features 1,400 acres of public hunting and fishing land; 5,200 acres of hunting and fishing land that is accessible with written permit, available by contacting Westar; 20 acres of land dedicated to environmental education and walking trails along the historic Oregon Trail and 3,500 acres of wildlife refuge that is closed to the public. The center also regularly hosts youth hunts and fishing derbies.
“Westar Energy has been hosting youth turkey hunts and youth deer hunts for more than 17 years,” Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said. “Westar makes our land and waters available to hunters, fishers and all others seeking to enjoy the Kansas outdoors. The youth hunting events specifically help us pass along good hunting practices to a new generation.”
Westar first entered into an agreement with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to allow fishing, hunting and recreation on areas of the plant property in 1990. The plant extended that deal with the state for 20 years in 2015.
“This agreement is part of being a good neighbor,” Penzig said. “(Jeffrey Energy Center) is among the larger employers in its area and is a sizable facility visible on the horizon for some distance. Welcoming people to share the outdoor recreation and hunting opportunities builds good relationships with our neighbors.”
Youth hunts slated
As part of their efforts, Westar will host youth turkey hunts April 1-11 at Jeffrey Energy Center, which is located 7 miles north of St. Marys.
Youths ages 12-17 who haven’t yet killed a turkey are able to hunt, and they must be accompanied by an adult mentor. The hunts will take place in closed ground blinds that are scattered around the wildlife area near small crop fields.
A shotgun is required, but no special clothing, calls or decoys are needed. Hunters 15 and younger must purchase a youth spring turkey permit, and hunters older than 16 will need a Unit 3 turkey permit, a hunting license and a hunter’s safety certificate or apprentice hunting license.
Registration will be open through March 17, or until all slots are filled. Applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, with preference for inexperienced mentors. Those interested in applying for the hunts or looking for more information can contact Barb Cornelius at (785) 575-8125.
Penzig said Westar’s Green Team, which is made up of employees and retiree volunteers, also completes 50 to 70 environmental projects per year to help with conservation in the area.
“These range from using recycled power poles to build docks and blinds to increase accessibility to outdoor areas to removing invasive plant species,” she said. “The Green Team comprises employees, retirees and community volunteers. All of the projects are completed on land that is accessible to the public or benefits public organizations like schools.”
Since 1989, the Green Team has planted tens of thousands of trees, restored prairie by planting native grasses and forbs, removed invasive trees, partnered on environmental education publications, installed small-scale wind turbines for education purposes and built trails, wetlands, bridges, boat ramps and look-outs to enhance access and education opportunities, according to its website. Those wishing to submit a project idea or partner with the Green Team on a project can contact coordinator Ben Postlethwait by email at Ben.Postlethwait@WestarEnergy.com.
Penzig said Westar also is careful to avoid environmentally sensitive areas when planning and building wind farms and transmission lines. The company reports that in 2017, 11 different wind farms will produce 1,700 megawatts of wind energy — or the equivalent of one-third of its customer base. The company also is gaining ground in solar energy, with 24 solar energy learning projects installed in Kansas to give the company a better idea of the potential solar energy has.
Overall, Westar says renewable energy production has grown 480 percent in the last 10 years alone.
Jeffrey Energy Center
1. Fishing is permitted only on the designated lakes.
2. No swimming is allowed.
3. All boats must obey state boating laws.
4. Maximum speed for all boats is 10 mph.
5. Fishing hours are sunrise to sunset.
6. Fish cleaning on site shall be limited to the removal of entrails. No heads or tails shall be removed. The entrails shall be disposed of in the lake.