Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wind Farming--What a Concept

I just returned from a Watershed Symposium in Great Falls, Montana. From Forsyth to Great Falls is a 320 mile trip, one-way, and there is some pretty interesting scenery along the way. I usually give myself some extra traveling time so I can stop and take pictures. It’s a good way to break up the trip and I generally learn something along the way. This trip took me by the Judith Gap Wind Farm. I don’t know about you, but the thought of farming wind sounds like a great idea to me. Renewable energy, what a concept! Isn’t it about time we started looking for viable alternatives to fossil fuel consumption?

I have read the usual rhetoric about wind energy; it’s obtrusive, noisy, and dangerous for birds. As you can see, there is no denying that there is a visual impact. The wind towers and rotors are 387 feet tall and the blades are 126 feet across. The concrete pads are 48 feet wide and seven foot deep to accommodate the 400,000 pound weight of the unit. There are 90 towers in all, spread across Highway 191; south of Judith Gap in Wheatland County.

I did a little research on the noise concerns and discovered that the turbines at Judith Gap produce 45-50 decibels. To put that into perspective, 30 decibels is comparable to a soft whisper and 40 decibels is equivalent to the noise level in a library. The wind itself will likely drown out the sound of the turbines - at least farther than 1,000 feet away. According to information compiled by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, bird deaths at wind farms average 4 per year, per tower. Bird mortality rates at the Judith Gap wind farm should be significantly lower due to the use of solid tubular towers rather than old-style lattice towers, which encouraged nesting and perching. In addition, the blades of the new style turbines turn much more slowly than the old style, making them much less dangerous.

What does all of this mean to the citizens of
Wheatland County? The initial cost of the project was $180,000,000. Approximately 120 people, mostly locals, were involved in the construction process. There are currently 12 full-time employees, again mainly local folks, maintaining the farm. A Lewistown company (local by Montana standards) provided the 22,000 tons of concrete for the project, and it is anticipated that in the next 20 years, Wheatland County will reap $1.2 million annually from a wind-assessment tax, money that will be earmarked specifically for economic-development projects. Good news for a county that has seen its average earnings per job, adjusted for inflation, plummet from $26,318 to $14,216 since 1970.

What does it mean for the people of the great state of Montana? For one thing, it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, which is always a good thing. Because 13 of the 90, 1.5 megawatt towers are located on state land, the project will contribute nearly $20,000 to the school trust for a one-time installation fee, and future revenues range from about $35,000 to 50,000 annually depending on the volume of power produced. Although it may be too early to tell, it appears that the farm will provide over 8% of the state's residential energy needs.

Sounds like a win-win situation to me. What do you think?


Courtney said...

Okay, I saw two things yesterday that apply to this (excellent) post: One was a bumper sticker that said, "how many dinosaurs per gallon does your car get?" and the other was The Skystream 3.7 Wind Generator.

I saw it last night on I Want That: Tech Toys on HGTV and was impressed. It's a home Wind Generator that reduces energy costs (dependant on the size of home) by 25 - 90%. They interviewed a gentleman using it, and although I don't recall what his previous month's electric bills had been, his most recent was was $2.98.

I believe they said the Skystream was around $1800.00

dmmgmfm said...

Thanks so much for adding that info and link, Courtney. What a neat system. Can you imagine what would be possible in this country if we weren't completely dependant upon fossil fuels? (I could go on and on here, but I think I'll save that for another post.)

As for the bumper sticker, I am going to have to see if I can find it online. I must have it!

Cathy said...

Great pictures. Is it a little eerie when you first see these structures looming on the horizon? What a great concept. Didn't the residents of Nantucket Island prevent one of these farms from going up in Nantucket Sound? It seems it was a NIMBY situation.

Now I'm curious as to how much wind an area must get to qualify for an installation like this.

Oh! BTW - I love, love, love your new picture :0)

dmmgmfm said...

Cathy: I think it might have been eerie, if I hadn't been prepared for it. They seem rather other-worldly to be honest, kind of like giant spaceships. I think you are right about Nantucket Island residents putting the kabosh on a similar wind project. LOL @ NIMBY.

I looked up the wind speed question and it sounds like the ideal is consistent winds in the 13-21 mph range. There are all kinds of wind speed maps on the internet and if you poke around in the site Courtney recommended (above) it will list your state and show the typical wind speeds on a map.

I'm very glad you like the picture. It's a bit easier on the eye that the witch pic.

Thailand Gal said...

Cool pictures! And you are such a good writer! Thanks for dropping by my corner of the Internet today. :)


~Chani (Thailand Gal)

dmmgmfm said...

Thank you very much Chani. I don't consider myself much of a writer, but I am passionate about the subject. I think the story pretty much wrote itself.

LauraHinNJ said...

There are a couple of these down by Atlantic City here in NJ - the wind farm consists of 5 - 6 turbines, not much to look at, but no worse than the hi-rises along the AC shoreline!

I'm not sure if the big environmental groups have taken a stand yet on wind farms - do you know?

Interesting post!

dmmgmfm said...

Laura: I know that the Sierra Club is in favor of harnessing the power of wind. You can read their report at Sierra Conservation International also supports the development of wind energy. There is a very interesting report here: Conservation In the Oct/Nov 2003 issue of National Wildlife Federation Magazine, Blair Swezey, principal policy advisor for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO, said Green energy comes from a variety of sources, including solar energy, hydropower, landfill methane gas and biomass (organic waste products). "But wind energy is the most cost-effective green power source available today." It appears that these three conservation organizations support wind energy development as long as it is done in a responsible manner.

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and commenting.

Errwigger said...

You wrote that wind energy "reduces our reliance on fossil fuels." Do you have evidence of that? I have read that the other generators on the grid just have to work harder to balance the variable and intermittent power from wind.

dmmgmfm said...

Errwigger: Former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson (1998-2001) said "The increasing use of renewable energy sources such as wind power holds the promise of reducing our nation's reliance on fossil fuels, thus enhancing our national security and protecting the environment.” This being said, the US Department of Energy advocates wind farms of 100-200 MW, rather than the huge wind parks favored in Europe, in order to alleviate the problem you mentioned.

According to a wind power map for Montana, the Judith Gap wind farm is in a Class 4 and Class 5 wind area, with average wind speeds from 15.7 to 17.9 miles per hours at 50 meters (162.5 feet). GE monitors all of its turbines for two years and the Judith Gap farm topped all other farms with GE turbines in energy production for the first three months of the year. Based upon that information, it appears that the issue you mentioned will not be much of a problem at this particular site.

In addition, there are other benefits to wind energy. Because wind requires no physical resources for its fuel, it also produces zero emissions. In addition to displacing climate change and air quality emissions from fossil fuels, it eliminates other forms of pollution such as chemical and thermal discharges into water, and solid combustion and radioactive wastes.

These benefits make significant improvements to the environment. By displacing air quality emissions, wind can indirectly improve local human health. By displacing greenhouse gas emissions, it is one of the essential tools in combating climate change. Local environments also benefit by the displacement of fossil fuel plants that produce water and material wastes.

Wind energy is a renewable resource, which means that it can't be exhausted like fossil fuels. It is also a domestic and local resource, reducing reliance on imported sources of fuel and reducing the risks of transporting these fuels. Because the wind is its only fuel, wind technology requires zero resource inputs - a significant contrast to both fossil fuels and some other clean energy sources like biomass and hydropower.

I hope this answers your question. If not, please let me know. Thank you for stopping and commenting.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

During my last trip through the south west I encountered several wind farms. To me, the noise was negligible. May basic view is using the wind for energy beats burning dead dinosaurs.

dmmgmfm said...

Nick: Shall I pick you up one of the "How many dinosaurs per gallon does your car get?" bumper stickers Courtney that saw? I definitely want one for myself.

KM said...

dmmgmfm did not answer errwigger's question. The industry has been talking for years of its "promise," and wind turbines have been connected in huge numbers in Europe. But where is the evidence that they fulfil any of their promise?

They are not better than burning fossil carbon if you still have to burn as much as before.

dmmgmfm said...

KM: The turbines are providing 8% of the residential energy needs for the state of Montana. The wind farm is providing locals with jobs and both the county and state are getting a lot of money in taxes. What part of the promise aren't they keeping?

KM said...

Has the use of other fuels declined 8%?

What that figure really means is that the production from the wind turbines equals 8% of the state's consumption or production. The rub is whether wind turbines actually manage to reduce the use of other sources (not for generating electricity, but for burning fuel, since they have to be kept on line to balance the fluctuating and intermittent wind).

Is Montana mothballing 8% of their conventional generating facilities?

dmmgmfm said...

KM: I would take you seriously if you allowed public access to your blog. Since you don't, I am guessing you are a "troll".

Because I don't want to humor or encourage you, I won't be answering any more of your questions (although I could) and your comments will be deleted.

Let me know if you decide to "come out".

Potato Print said...

Hi dmmgmfm

Well, that's a piece of good news. You just raised my consciousness. I appreciate the work that went into posting that. Thanks for the welcome home. You are so right! Tarzan and I were delighted, even elated to see each other.

dmmgmfm said...

Potato print: Thanks, you made my day. You are a dear.

threecollie said...

Good for you for taking a stand!!! For Heaven's sake, people want to reduce reliance on fossil energy, but there isn't any alternative solution that they find acceptable either. What are we supposed to do, stand absolutely still, naked in the snow and shiver hard to keep warm? This whole post is well-researched and documented and I congratulate you on it!

dmmgmfm said...

Threecollie: Thanks so much, I appreciate the feedback. I agree with you; you just can't please some people and I'm not even going to try. I will keep doing what I feel is right (and continue deleting comments from people who don't allow public access to their blogs).