Wind energy blows into Columbia

Saturday, September 15, 2007 | 7:59 p.m. CDT; updated 3:59 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Recent cool breezes carry sweet relief from the summer heat, but wind has also become a valuable commodity for investors in a new Missouri wind farm that will be dedicated Monday and is already supplying wind power to Columbia.

Bluegrass Ridge wind farm, north of King City in Gentry County, Mo., will formally join the 34 other states that use wind as a supplemental source of energy Monday, according to statistics released by the American Wind Energy Association. The dedication begins at 10 a.m. and will feature remarks by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a picnic, exhibits about wind energy and tours of the wind farm. A representative of the Associated Electric Cooperative will cap the celebration with the ceremonial flipping of a switch on one of the brand new wind turbines.

The turbines

Suzlon S-88 turbines, being erected near King City, are among the largest and most powerful in America: Each one has a generating capacity of 2.1 megawatts Each turbine is nearly 260 feet tall Each turbine has three 140-foot blades The rotor diameter of each turbine is 289 feet, nearly the length of a football field Source:

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Bluegrass Ridge is the result of a coordinated effort by Associated Electric; the Wind Capital Group­­­, which is founded by Tom Carnahan, son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan; and John Deere Wind Energy. Two more wind farms, Conception wind farm and Cow Branch wind farm, are expected to be up and running by the end of the year, Associated Electric spokeswoman Nancy Southworth said.

Bluegrass Ridge began supplying electricity to Columbia on Sept. 6 as part of the city’s effort to incorporate renewable energy into its power supply. Voters approved an ordinance in late 2004, requiring that 2 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2008. That’s the first of several benchmarks on the way to an ultimate goal of 15 percent by 2023. Power sources that qualify as renewable are those that naturally replenish themselves, such as solar energy, wind power and bioenergies.

Connie Kacprowicz, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Water and Light Department, said the city is ahead of the pace.

“We’re planning on having 5 percent in 2008,” she said, a percentage the ordinance doesn’t require until 2013. “We feel we’re doing great.”

The arrival of wind energy in Columbia did not come easily. It required somewhat heated negotiation with the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, or MISO — an organization that governs energy flows among its members. The city and MISO clashed over how soon wind power could be provided to Columbia, but the two eventually compromised so that the city can receive wind energy on a “non-firm” basis until February, Kacprowicz said.

Non-firm basically means “non-guaranteed,” Kacprowicz said. “We can schedule and ask for a certain amount of power, and, as long as the system isn’t overwhelmed, we should be able to get it just fine. We don’t see it being a problem between now and February,” when Columbia will be assured of receiving the full amount of wind power it has contracted to buy.

In addition to the new wind power, the city will receive renewable energy from two methane gas projects: one at Ameresco in Jefferson City and another being developed at the Columbia landfill.

The future of wind

Environmental concerns about burning coal have made wind and other renewable energy sources an attractive option to the public, but they weren’t worthwhile for investors until recently. Volatile gas prices, clean air requirements and efficient turbine technology have combined to create incentives that have vaulted the United States into a leading role in wind-energy development.

The use of wind energy in the United States increased nearly threefold from 2001 to 2005, according to a report by the Energy Information Administration. This marked the first year that Missouri had its own wind turbines. This is largely due to natural limitations. Missouri has considerably less wind than other states that produce wind energy, but better technology has finally made wind energy financially viable, especially in northwest Missouri, said Kerry Cordray, a spokesman for the Energy Center at Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources.

Wind’s contribution as an energy source will remain limited for now, because it’s an inconsistent resource. Wind, for example, typically blows the least during the summer, when demand for electricity is greatest.

“It’s important and will remain important, but it will also, for the foreseeable future, remain a supplemental resource,” Cordray said, but he emphasized that the industry expects to grow.

Cost is another major challenge; Southworth estimated that wind power typically costs up to three times as much as coal power to generate. Its costs, however, are comparable to the expense of power produced using natural gas.

Those obstacles have prevented many industrial countries from adding wind power to their energy portfolios. According to a report by the Global Wind Energy Council, 59 percent of today’s wind energy is being produced in Germany, Spain and the United States. Of those three countries, the United States showed the most growth in wind-energy production in 2006.

Despite the gains, non-renewable sources still accounted for 90 percent of America’s total energy capacity as of 2005, the energy council indicates. As the only city in Missouri with a contract to buy wind energy, Columbia is leading the effort to change that.

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