Wind power may blow into area
By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer
Corporate-owned wind farms in Boone and Lee counties may be generating electricity for tens of thousands of homes and businesses within the next five years if testing is favorable and county board approvals are obtained.
However, farmers, businesses, government agencies and homeowners do not have to wait for large companies to come to them to make electricity from wind. Resources are available online to help visionaries determine if a given area may be viable for wind energy.
Large wind projects
Large wind projects, such as those proposed in Lee and Boone counties, typically number between 60 to 70 windmills that stand 230 to 240 feet in height and cover 3,000 to 3,500 acres. Large Midwest projects are commonly placed on ridges that rise 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding area, according to Wes Slaymaker, the Boone County wind project engineer for enXco company. enXco is developing and operating about 4,000 wind turbines on three continents.
The companies conduct research to find wind corridors whose annual average speeds are about 15.6 miles per hour, Slaymaker said. The Rockford areas annual average wind speed is 10 miles per hour, according to Slaymaker.
The companies also look for the needed geologic and demographic specifications and electrical grid accessibility needed to support such an investment. Once the research is completed, the companies approach landowners in the corridor to discuss specifics.
John Ferry, who owns property on Wyman School Road in Boone County, has contracted with enXco to allow the company to conduct wind tests. The tests will serve as the basis to help determine whether further investment in the project will be profitable.
Ferry said he lived in England, France and Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. He said Europeans in general, and Germans specifically, are visionaries in researching, developing and utilizing renewable energy sources. Ferrys observations are supported by author Jeremy Rifkins book, The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the World-Wide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth.
As of December 2001, Germany produced 8,750 million watts (MW) of electricity from wind power. The United States produced 4,261 MW, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The 4,261 MW translates into about 10 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. This amount of energy could supply 1 million households with electricity for a year.
Ferry said the Boone County project could yield $7,000 to $11,000 per turbine. A majority of that revenue would go to the North Boone School District, according to Ferry. The project could have 67 turbines in operation within five years.
Small wind projects
Homeowners, farmers, businesses and government agencies can also start their own wind projects. Help is available from a variety of sources. Most of the sources are easily accessible from Web sites. The resources are listed at the and of this article.
The typical American household uses 1,000 kWh of electricity per year, according to the AWEA. 1991 data from Pacific Northwest Laboratories indicates that Illinois is the 16th windiest state. Theoretical yields suggest that Illinois could produce 62 billion kWh of electricity from wind, using todays technologies. By contrast, North Dakota, the windiest state, could produce 1,210 billion kWh of electricity.
A single home or farm requires a 1 to 25 kilowatt wind generation system that would stand 80 to 120 feet in height and occupy one-half acre per turbine. A village or subdivision would require a 100 kilowatt (kW) wind generation system.
Small and large wind operators get paid by the number of kWh their turbines produce in a given time period. A crude indication of a wind turbines energy production capabilities is its rotor diameter. The diameter determines its swept area, which is also called the capture area.
A wind turbine may have a rated power of 100 kW. However, if its rotor diameter is too small, the turbine will not be able to produce useful amounts of electricity until the wind speed reaches 40 miles per hour. In other words, the wind turbine will not rotate for a long enough period of time to produce an adequate annual output of energy. Wind turbines manufactured today have power ratings from 250 watts to 1.8 million watts.
Therefore, individuals and small communities must do their homework to investigate local wind speeds, choose the correct size of turbine and check local restrictions. Grants and rebates are also available to help offset start-up costs.
According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, the Renewable Energy Resources Program will provide up to $5 million per year in rebates and grants for renewable energy projects for Illinois residents, businesses, and government entities. Through the program, qualified applicants can receive up to 60 percent back on wind generating systems. The department maintains a Web site explaining the program.
For small systems that generate between 10 kW to 99 kW, the department offers up to 60 percent funding up to $6 per watt with a maximum grant of $300,000. For large projects over 10 MW in size, the state offers up to 10 percent of the project costs with a maximum grant of $2,750,000. Other projects such as fuel cells, hydrodynamic power and photovoltaic systems are also part of the departments program.
In addition, Commonwealth Edison has a net metering (net billing) program that allows excess electricity to be credited to the owners of renewable energy systems. The program applies to systems that generate 40 kW of electricity or less.
Critics of wind power say wind turbines are noisy, pose a hazard to birds and bats and are an eyesore. The AWEA said all these issues can be addressed if proper planning is implemented. However, unlike conventional energy technologies, wind energys impacts are local. Therefore, local agencies and individuals have more control over its impacts.
Slaymaker said a large turbine produces about 40 decibels of sound from a distance of a quarter of a mile. This corresponds to a sound intensity between a mosquito buzzing and a whisper. Slaymaker cited one particular bird study conducted by Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc., that concluded, in comparison to other structures such as TV towers and radio towers, overall incidence of bird mortality in wind generation facilities is small.
The AWEA said, using turbines of the same size and type and spacing them uniformly generally results in a wind plant that satisfies most aesthetic concerns. Other critics have also expressed concerns about the health effects of electromagnetic field exposure. However, numerous studies conducted by many researchers have not supported such concerns.
Do it yourself!
Here is a list of resources to assist in putting together a wind energy system:
1. American Wind Energy Association.
http://www.awea.org/smallwind/illinois.htmlAnswers many frequently asked questions.
2. Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.
http://www.illinoisbiz.biz/ho_recycling_energy.htmlProvides information about Illinois renewable energy grants and rebates.
3. Environmental Law and Policy Center.
http://www.elpc.org/energy/netmetering.htmlProvides information on Illinois net metering programs.