Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

by Jeff Joiner

Sitting in a park-like spot on a high bluff with a spectacular view of the Missouri River valley below, Dr. Fred Ashler’s home is beautiful. But, at 5,000 square feet, it’s also a beast to heat and cool, says the retired 77-year-old physician from Hamburg, Iowa. But it’s his home’s location that offers Ashler a possible solution to his dilemma.

“It’s rare that we don’t 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 he’s 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 home’s electrical need.

“We know the cost of electricity will go up and propane is unpredictable. These are things we don’t 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 it’s 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 summer’s 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 it’s 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. “There’s kind of a sweet spot for producing electricity with wind that’s usually about 15 to 25 miles an hour and the wind doesn’t 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 State’s 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 hadn’t paid for itself.

“There’s a reason most wind farms are located in western states. If you think about the terrain in those states, it makes sense because it’s wide open space that gets a lot of wind and there’s nothing to slow the wind down. They can generate power in those areas that’s not economical to generate here.”

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 can’t 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 person’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 he’ll 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.

Rural Missouri - October 2014
2014 Missouri Snapshots Photo Contest
 
Rural Missouri Merchandise Out of the Way Eats Subscribe to Rural Missouri Rural Missouri Prints Store

Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

Rural Missouri's Facebook Page Rural Missouri's YouTube Channel Subscribe to Rural Missouri's RSS Feed Rural Missouri | Pinterest