TOWNS POWERED BY WIND?
TOWNS POWERED BY WIND?
One of the highlights of this century is the energy independent community. Portrayed long ago by science fiction, until recently it was still a dream to be fulfilled sometime in the distant future. But not anymore.
Rock Port, Mo. and its four turbines gives us a glimpse of a near, green future.
But with the many benefits, also come some hazards. So, are wind farms a good deal?
THE TOWN OF THE FUTURE?
Northwest Missouri is renowned for having the state’s highest concentrations of wind resources, reports the U.S. Department of Energy. The map shows that this area contains a number of locations that are potentially suitable for utility-scale wind development.
“That’s something to be very proud of, especially in a rural area like this — that we’re doing our part for the environment,” said Jim Crawford (natural resource engineer at the University of Missouri Extension in Columbia).
The four turbines of this revolutionary community, supply electricity to 1,300 residents. So Rock Port is the first town in the United States to operate solely on wind power. But these turbines are part of a larger set of 75 turbines across three counties that are used to harvest the power of wind.
“We’re farming the wind, which is something that we have up here. The payback on a per-acre basis is generally quite good when compared to a lot of other crops, and it’s as simple as getting a cup of coffee and watching the blades spin,” Crawford said.
But producing clean energy is just one of the benefits that these wind turbines provide. The Missouri wind farms are reported to provide more than $1.1 million annually – in county real estate taxes, to be paid by Wind Capital Group, a wind energy developer based in St. Louis.
Landowners can lease parts of their properties to wind turbines, while they benefit from large savings on electricity.
“Anybody who is currently using Rock Port utilities can expect no increase in rates for the next 15 to 20 years,” Crawford added.
“This is a unique situation because in rural areas it is quite uncommon to have this increase in taxation revenues,” said Jerry Baker (MU Extension community development specialist).
HOW DO WIND FARMS WORK?
The United States produces 18,000 megawatts of electricity through its wind farms. And that is enough to power up to 5.4 million average U.S. homes. While Denmark gets 20 percent of its energy from wind farms, the Department of Energy predicts that one-fifth of the nation’s power might come from wind, until 2030.
Wind farms use the wind’s energy to generate electricity. But wind energy is produced mainly by the sun. When solar energy heats up the atmosphere, hot air rises while cooler air swirls down to replace it. This movement results in wind.
Wind turbines consist of massive rotors – some 160 to 300 feet in diameter. A wind turbine inland can generate 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts, while one located offshore amid mighty coastal winds may reach 5 megawatts. Turbines in the water present some significant hazards, though. Because of the ocean waves and the corrosive seawater, maintenance can become quite expensive.
IS WIND ENERGY RELIABLE ENOUGH?
“It’s the most cost-competitive renewable energy source right now. It’s even competitive right now with fossil fuels, given how the price of oil has risen. It’s also emits no carbon dioxide, so it won’t help warm the Earth,” said John Rogers (senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists).
But the impact on ecosystems and wildlife can be tremendous – and there is not enough research yet to say how wind farms can impact natural habitats and the climate.
“Obviously, the major reason we’d want wind farms is to help stave off the tremendous impact on humanity and the natural environment that global warming can have, so it’s a question of balance about what impacts wind energy will have compared with fossil fuels. But there are ways to find proper sites for wind farms to avoid, minimize or compensate for the impact it might have on wildlife,” Rogers added.
So, until another power generating solution comes up, wind energy seems good enough. But with some twists and hazards.