It's one thing to get the turbines whirling away, producing electricity. Now's the time for states to get the jobs, too.
It’s been a long cold winter, but northwest Missouri is still a hot spot for wind energy development. Recently a new wind farm was completed in Atchison County, just north of Tarkio. That brings the total number of projects to four, including those near King City, Conception, and Rock Port.
Speaking to a gathering of local citizens last October, Richard Baldwin, director of the Atchison County Development Corporation, said that Atchison County Missouri has more wind generation assets than the entire state of Nebraska.
According to Eric Chamberlain, manager of wind farm operations for Wind Capital Group, there are new developments pending all over the place. Part of that is due to the passage of Proposition C last November, which mandated an increasing role for renewable energy in Missouri.
(Prop C requires that utilities in the state get 2 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2011 and up to 15 percent by 2021. Some utility executives question whether this is possible, but around here we just keep building turbines.)
The first spots chosen for wind energy projects required not only a stiff breeze but adequate capacity on the existing electrical grid. Now, partly due to Prop C, new projects that exceed grid capacity are being complemented by the construction of additional transmission capability.
Chamberlain’s employer (Wind Capital) partnered with John Deere to bring the first turbines into northwest Missouri. Wind Capital continues to consider new ventures. Right now, Chamberlain is excited about working with Northwest Missouri State University at Maryville to develop programs for technical training in the maintenance of wind turbines and their components. “Iowa has done a very good job of developing the wind energy industry in their state,” Chamberlain said. “We hope to do the same thing here.”
Most states compare themselves to Iowa or Texas when it comes to wind development — and most states find they are lacking in the comparison. Earlier this week, the Omaha, Nebraska, newspaper noted that, “Despite Nebraska’s strategic location at the center of a High Plains wind corridor that some say is to wind what Saudi Arabia is to oil, Nebraska has only a scattering of wind turbines.” By contrast, wrote reporter Henry Cordes, neighboring Iowa ranked just behind Texas in wind energy production.
“Iowa’s lead position in wind energy didn’t happen by accident,” Cordes wrote. “Over the years, Iowa’s elected officials approved rebates, loans, grants, tax reductions and regulatory changes to encourage the budding industry. The state’s university system lent its expertise, and an Iowa community college offered the nation’s first associate degree program for turbine technicians.”
Iowa is one of only two states that manufactures the three primary components of wind energy: turbines, blades and towers. In Kansas, new wind turbines have parts shipped in from Indonesia and Brazil.
Kansas is the third windiest state and is now looking beyond just producing wind energy, according to reporter Dan Voorhis in the Wichita Eagle. “Wind farms are only the start,” Voorhis reported. “The real economic benefit comes from developing a large manufacturing and research base to supply those wind farms, economic development experts say.”
Still, wind generating capacity has tripled in the last 15 months, to more than 1,000 megawatts. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that Kansas has a capacity of 10,000 megawatts of wind energy.
Back around Langdon, Missouri Farmers Union vice president Steve Wright of Madison, who is serving on the 2009 National Farmers Union national policy committee, said the farmers union has been told that land owners should be on the lookout for clauses in wind energy leasing contracts that give holders total rights to the wind above leased property — agreements similar to what one might find in mineral rights contracts for minerals or water underground. Chamberlain said that he hasn’t heard of anyone doing that in Missouri, but that it is always good to ask for references when in doubt, and to have a competent attorney review the contract.
Today’s commercial wind turbines stand approximately 260 feet high and have fans 250 to 270 feet in diameter with a generating capacity of 1.5 to 2 megawatts per turbine. Right now there are at least 400 megawatts of additional generating capacity proposed for the northeast Missouri counties of Holt, Atchison and Nodaway — more than double what’s currently being produced.
Chamberlain, a native of Rock Port, was hopeful. “The economic stimulus bill contained a lot on wind energy,” he said. “This is ongoing.” And not just around here, but all over the Plains.”