Sitting in a park-like spot
on a high bluff with a spectacular view of the Missouri River valley below,
Dr. Fred Ashlers home is beautiful. But, at 5,000 square feet, its
also a beast to heat and cool, says the retired 77-year-old physician
from Hamburg, Iowa. But its his homes location that offers
Ashler a possible solution to his dilemma.
Its rare that we
dont get a breeze up here, says Ashler who is planning to
install a wind turbine on a 120-foot tower near his house to generate
electricity to help offset the energy costs for his large home. Ashler
estimates the wind on the 300-foot bluff averages 14 to 15 mph.
Ashler is in an enviable position
to generate electricity from the wind. His home is located in a spot with
favorable winds and hes working with Iowa State University to receive
some financial help. Ashler figures a 20-kilowatt generator is large enough
to provide about 75 percent of his homes electrical need.
We know the cost of electricity
will go up and propane is unpredictable. These are things we dont
have any control over, says Ashler, whose home is served by Atchison-Holt
Electric Cooperative just across the nearby state line in Missouri. If
I can partially control it and keep my utilities at $1,000 a year or less
by using wind power then I think its feasible.
|Large wind farms,
like this one in Minnesota, are only feasible in areas of country
with wide open spaces and near constant winds.
Since last summers energy
crisis in California, followed by electricity shortages this summer in
the Northeast, many people are once again looking at alternative ways
to generate electricity for home use and one of the most popular is using
the wind. Today, there are a number of wind farms around the country,
mostly in western states. And in some places its possible to buy
green power from electric utilities. Green power is electricity
generated using renewable sources such as wind, but most often that green
power is not generated locally, but bought off the grid from areas of
the country where wind generation is more feasible.
So it is little wonder that
with all this attention being paid to wind power Missourians are also
interested in generating their own electricity. But the reality is here
in the Missouri generating electricity from the wind is not a paying proposition,
at least not with current technology.
When I plug in a number
for a typical size turbine, say 15 feet in diameter, and the average wind
speed for Missouri it cranks out enough power for a toaster, says
Bob Schultheis, a University Extension agriculture engineer in Marshfield
who has studied wind power generation. Theres kind of a sweet
spot for producing electricity with wind thats usually about 15
to 25 miles an hour and the wind doesnt consistently blow that hard
here. The average for this part of the state (southwest Missouri) is about
11 miles an hour.
According to the United States
Department of Energy, which has mapped average wind speeds around the
country, the vast majority of Missouri is considered only marginal for
producing electricity (12 to 14 mph) with the exceptions being the extreme
northern Missouri and the southwest corner of state where the Department
of Energy classifies those areas as fair (14 to 15 mph).
There are places in the
state where the right combination of hills and valleys may create a corridor
of wind that would be conducive to generating power, but most of the state
is just not windy enough, says Schultheis.
Schultheis recalls more than
20 years ago the Keebler Cookie Company in Springfield spent $30,000 to
build an experimental wind generator at its plant and more than five years
later the company reported it still hadnt paid for itself.
Theres a reason
most wind farms are located in western states. If you think about the
terrain in those states, it makes sense because its wide open space
that gets a lot of wind and theres nothing to slow the wind down.
They can generate power in those areas thats not economical to generate
And it all comes down to economics.
Even Ashler admits his wind generator will never replace his connection
to Atchison-Holt Electric Cooperative. With current technology and prevailing
wind patterns in Missouri, the cost of a residential size wind turbine
cant generate power cheaper than most electric cooperatives and
investor-owned utilities which average about 8 cents a kilowatt-hour.
According to the American Wind
Energy Association a wind generator may be feasible if the cost of a persons
electricity is more than 11 cents a kwh and the average wind speed is
more than 11 mph. According to the Alternative Energy Institute the average
cost of powering a residence with a wind generator of less than 100 kw
is about 15 cents a kwh.
Sam Minter, assistant general
manager of N.W. Electric Power Cooperative in Cameron, has studied the
economics of wind generation and says most people dont realize many
of the hidden costs of free electricity from wind. Minter
says that anyone considering wind generation should carefully study the
feasibility of the idea in their area.
People dont realize
all the costs. Buying a turbine for $30,000 or $40,000 is just the start.
If someone wants cheap electricity the best thing they can do is buy it
from their local utility, says Minter.
Ashler estimates his 20-kw
turbine will cost $32,000 to buy, but he estimates hell have another
$10,000 in additional costs to prepare the site, erect a tower, hire a
crane to mount the turbine and wire it to provide electricity to his house
and an interconnection with Atchison-Holt Electric which will allow him
to sell any excess electricity back to the co-op. He also must replace
a propane gas furnace with an electric unit. Ashler says it will be a
decade or more before the project pays for itself even with financial
help from Iowa State University.
Every year technology improves
and wind generators are becoming more and more efficient using less wind.
Research is now being done on generators which produce electricity efficiently
at wind speeds of less than 10 mph. But those units are expected to cost
consumers $100,000 or more to buy.
In the future wind generation
will become more feasible in wider parts of the country including the
in Missouri. But until then wind power will remain an expensive proposition.
For more information about
the potential of wind generation visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Wind Technology Center at www.nrel.gov/wind.