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Power Earth United States

First Town In US To Become 100% Wind Powered 391

Posted by kdawson
from the can't-get-much-greener dept.
gundar99 writes "Rock Port Missouri, population 1,300, is the first 100% wind-powered city in the US. Loess Hill Wind Farm, with four 1.25-MW wind turbines, is estimated to generate 16 gigawatt hours (16 million kilowatt hours) of electricity annually. 13 gigawatt hours of electricity have historically been consumed annually by the residents and businesses of this town."
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First Town In US To Become 100% Wind Powered

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  • by Marcika (1003625) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:14PM (#23319470)
    They could be relying solely on wind power -- it's perfectly possible using pumped storage [wikipedia.org].
    (They aren't though, so your point of needing other auxiliary sources of energy still stands.)
  • big catch (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:15PM (#23319480)
    There's one big catch to this: the town isn't 100% wind powered. Instead, it produces more energy from wind power than it uses each year. Wind speed changes, and people use different amounts of electricity at different times, so a significant part of the town's electricity will still come from conventional generation through the grid.

    Wind power is nice, but the rule of thumb for wind power is that it doesn't actually replace any conventional generating capacity, it merely reduces the utilization at times. Since there are times when the wind power doesn't do any good, you can't actually get rid of any of your conventional capacity.

    To actually replace anything with wind, you'd need a tremendous overcapacity that was sufficiently distributed geographically to ensure that enough of it got wind all the time to meet your total power needs.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:20PM (#23319514)
    If you draw a box around a year and this town and measure the inputs and outputs, the town is a net producer of electricity, assuming their forcast of consumption holds true. Ergo, by Jedi logic, they are 100% wind powered. Your commentary on the matter elegantly illustrates the difference between erudite and pedantic for the rest of us. Thank you, not everyone could have done so as gracefully.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:26PM (#23319562) Journal

    I knew there would be a post like this. This always comes up when people discuss wind and solar. First, if they were not on the grid they could use "peak storage". There are a number of ways to do that. In areas where water and elevation are available, you can pump water back up a hill into a holding pond and re-cycle it through a turbine--augmented hydro power. Other methods of peak storage include: flywheels, batteries, and even compressed air pumped into abandoned mines that have been properly sealed to hold in the pressure. Choice of method depends on a variety of factors of course.

    Now, since they are connected to the grid, the peak storage issue isn't very important. They just feed the grid when they have excess, and draw from the grid when they don't. Therefore, they are actually *over* 100% since they are expected to feed the grid more often than they draw from it. If everybody did what they did, then peak storage would be required because it is possible for calm conditions to persist over fairly wide areas--perhaps wide enough to make transmission impractical. The only difference here is that they are using the grid as a virtual peak storage system.

    When wind power is sent to "town B", they can idle one of their fossil-fuel generators. The fuel un-burned by said generator is another way to account for peak storage.

    Using the grid as peak storage just makes better econonmic sense than building your own peak storage and declaring independance like some kind of cult or something.

    Wind power has other issues though, mostly aesthetic.

  • wha...? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Takichi (1053302) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:28PM (#23319576)
    Ow. My brain hurts after trying to read that article. Did someone randomly select quotes and comments from a bag? Here's a better written version, though still light on the information (no figures for cost per kWh) http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/1568/ [ecogeek.org]
  • More questions (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dan East (318230) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:30PM (#23319584) Homepage Journal
    The article sucked. Are the turbines really powering the town, or is that going into the grid in general? The article mentions that the power won't be free, but that the mayor hopes it will cost less because of lower transmission fees. So how much does it cost? The article mentions the landowner that set the thing up. So is it privately owned, or part of the city? Does the city actually buy electricity from this guy, or does he just make money selling to the power companies? What the heck does John Deere have to do with anything?
  • by Rhapsody Scarlet (1139063) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @08:59PM (#23319742) Homepage

    Because at the time [wikipedia.org], 'gigawatt' was more commonly pronounced with a soft 'g', which is still the official NIST [wikipedia.org] pronunciation. It's only since then, with the rise of computers in everyday life, that the hard 'g' pronunciation has become ubiquitous.

    But seriously, you have an active Slashdot account! How could you possibly not know basic Back to the Future trivia like this?

  • by caviare (830421) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @09:06PM (#23319776)
    Theoretically they could use peak storage, but understand this: they don't. Until they do they are not 100% wind powered. All of the storage technologies you mention are either prohibitively expensive or don't have the capacity to cope with lulls in the wind for days or weeks at a time. Outside a few small mountainous countries with heaps of hydro such as New Zealand, we are all dependent on fossil fuel or nuclear at least part of the time.
  • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @09:13PM (#23319818)
    Those poor birds.

    That's mostly a legend, remaining from the times of small, very fast rotating wind wheels.

    Nowadays, this isn't an issue any more: The wheels are much higher (less birds) and slower
    (birds can react to and avoid them). I've been to a couple of recent generation generators,
    and have even climbed one (great view) - there wasn't a single dead bird lying around in the
    vicinity. Yes, I looked for them.
  • by shermo (1284310) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @09:17PM (#23319852)
    New Zealand still sources 30-40% of it's energy from thermal (gas/coal). In addition, New Zealand has water storage capabilities of a few weeks to months, so it's very possible to run low, and as such requires additional thermal capabilities to compensate. Norway is closer to 100% hydro.
  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @09:26PM (#23319908) Homepage Journal
    Well, not quite on the variability in the US at least. Connecting geographically spreadout wind farms yields at least one third of the power as steady and, if I recall, closer to 60% when most of the wind belt is connected. http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2007/december5/windfarm-120507.html [stanford.edu]

    This lowers the cost of transmission because the largest transmission lines can be used 100% of the time at full capacity.
  • Re:Backup? (Score:2, Informative)

    by bledri (1283728) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @09:30PM (#23319930)

    They are connected to the power grid, just like every other city. When the wind turbines fall below local needs, they consume power from the grid. When the turbines generate more power than the town needs, they pump power into the grid for others to use.

    They appear to be a net producer, which seems to be a good thing.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @09:41PM (#23319992)
    At large scales steam still wins and the fuel consumption can be scaled back a lot when power is not needed. Gas turbines only become viable at small scales but it is true that they can come up to speed almost as quickly as hydro so can be completely turned off when they are not needed. Quite a few are very cheap since they are made out of second hand jet engines - some from 1950's jets are still in service as backup generators!

    Anyway the article was about wind. The big problems there are small unit sizes and short times between maintainance. A mixture of power sources is a good idea anyway. Anyone that talks about a single true energy source is either selling something or has been tricked by salesfolk.

  • Re:Wind can't do it. (Score:2, Informative)

    by frosty_tsm (933163) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @10:08PM (#23320186)
    I don't know who modded this off topic, but they apparently haven't seen Back to the Future [imdb.com].
  • by RockWolf (806901) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @10:48PM (#23320396)

    Although the turbines these days are much larger and spin much more slowly, the turbines are in fact more dangerous to birds. This is because the speed of the turbines is measured at the tip of the blades. The blades are so huge now that they move slowly at the tip, but get to within a few feet of the centre and they blades move much faster than the older turbines.

    What now? It's been a few years since I took physics at more than an interest level, but that makes no sense whatsoever. If you're talking radial velocity, all parts of the blades take the same time to complete one revolution (obviously), hence the same radial velocity. That same phenomenon says that since all parts must take the same time for a revolution, the further you are from the axis of revolution the faster the linear velocity must be - so the tips cut through the air faster than the inner section of the blades.

    Care to explain where the hell you got that piece of "information" from? Logic would say that the tips of the blades should be more dangerous than the inner sections due to the higher linear velocity, however maybe they're also easier to avoid. Whether birds can detect the blades or not isn't my field of expertise.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:06PM (#23320484)

    Outside a few small mountainous countries with heaps of hydro such as New Zealand, we are all dependent on fossil fuel or nuclear at least part of the time.

    Isn't Iceland almost entirely geothermal?

  • Re:Not Really... (Score:3, Informative)

    by hobo sapiens (893427) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:13PM (#23320526) Journal
    It's about reducing your footprint. If a town generates as much electricity (in an environmentally friendly fashion) as they consume, then their electricity usage footprint is zero. Doesn't matter who uses the actual electricity generated via wind. It's that much less the Callaway nuclear plant, or worse still, some coal plant has to generate.

    Maybe the summary overstates it a bit if you want to be anal-retentive, but this is an interesting story nonetheless. And we all know that being anal retentive just leaves you full of crap.
  • Re:big catch (Score:4, Informative)

    by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000.yahoo@com> on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:24PM (#23320560)

    And what is the average cost of wind power anyway?

    According to the American Wind Energy Association's FAQ, "What are the Factors in the Cost of Electricity from Wind Turbines?" [awea.org], wind costs can be under 5 cents per KWH. I don't have an electric bill handy but I think I pay something like 10 cents per KWH.

    Falcon
  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:33PM (#23320632)

    I'm not a civil engineer either, but I am training to become one. I think you're worrying way too much here. Yes, you need a reasonable foundation for the thing, but then you can put soil for farming on top of that.

    But even that is overthinking the issue; just look at this picture [wikipedia.org]. See the space each turbine tower takes up? Now see the space between towers? Is the former significant compared to the latter? No. Are they, in fact, growing some kind of crops between the towers? Yes. If this weren't true, the picture wouldn't exist!

    Even still you couldn't put them denser than the falling distance from one to another or a slight engineering snafu turns your billion dollar windfarm into the worlds most expensive set of dominos.

    You don't want to put them close together anyway, because

    1. the turbine needs to rotate (in the X-Y plane) so that it's always facing the wind and you don't want blades of adjacent turbines to hit each other, and
    2. if they're too close behind each other, the wake turbulence from the turbine in front reduces the efficiency of the turbine behind.
    Oh, and by the way: assuming you arrange the turbines in a square grid, they would have to fall in one of the four cardinal directions to risk creating "the world's most expensive set of dominos." If we assume that the zone where this would happen takes up 1 degree of arc for each direction, there's a (4/360) ~= 1% chance of that happening, assuming a tower fell over in the first place. I'd call that negligible risk.
  • by ductonius (705942) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:35PM (#23320640) Homepage
    The only flaw in that cunning plan is that the best terrain for wind power is open, flat country where the wind blows constantly while the best terrain for pumped storage is rocky, mountainous areas where the earth forms natural basins.

    There are few places in the world where terrain suitable for both wind and pumped storage occurs close together.

    Most wind power stations will have to rely on gas-turbine backups, which is to say building a wind power station means building both a wind power station and a gas-turbine power station.

    Umm...go nuclear?
  • by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:40PM (#23320670)
    Geothermal and hydroelectric.
  • 130 turbines... (Score:3, Informative)

    by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:50PM (#23320716)
    Which, assuming high winds, will provide about 1/3 the power output of one of the Diablo Canyon reactors. Their own estimates are closer to 1/6 that load on average. That works out to being able to supply power for about 180,000 people (Diablo Canyon's two reactors supply for about 2.2 million homes).

    To put this in perspective, all the wind power generating capacity currently deployed in California is about 3/4 of one reactor at Diablo Canyon, and that's assuming the wind is blowing constantly at the average, or about 2.5 times what Cape Wind plans on deploying, if it can get regulatory approval, and prove negligible environment impact from the construction and deployment both.

    That isn't a small amount of generating capacity, but the fact that this is going to take building 130 generating stations to achieve, and a huge area (as you pointed out: not chump change, with regard to ocean acreage). It's also going to only end up supplying about 75% of the overall usage of Cape Cod, and the two islands of Martha's Vinyard and Nantucket - not a lot of people.

    To put that figure in perspective, that's 4.5 x 5.4 nautical miles square, or about 30 square non-nautical miles, to supply 135,000 people.

    -- Terry
  • Re:Wind can't do it. (Score:2, Informative)

    by ChameleonDave (1041178) * on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:54PM (#23320738) Homepage

    Next Thunderstorm put on a suit of plate mail
    No such thing. I think you mean "plate armour", which is armour made of metal plates. Mail is armour made of rings. There is also plate-and-mail, which uses a bit of both.
  • Do the math (Score:3, Informative)

    by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday May 06, 2008 @11:59PM (#23320756)
    Diablo Canyo powers 2.2 million people with two reactors, so you are talking 17 more installations of a comparable size to power California.

    I'm pro-nuclear, and I can't see that happening in California, even if the price of natural gas goes up at the California/Nevada border again, as it did under Enron. California is all about NIMBY. Now build them in some other state and run wires, and California would likely love the idea.

    -- Terry
  • by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000.yahoo@com> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @12:07AM (#23320808)

    your other arguments seam to be wind power can't make this country self sufficient (agreed.) But their are not enough known nuclear material in the US to be self sufficient in nuclear, so it definitely can't (currently) solve the US energy problems either (unless were willing and able to kick South Africa's ass next.)

    Wind [nrel.gov] can provide provide the US with a lot of energy. And an article in Sciam, "A Solar Grand Plan [sciam.com] says that by 2050 solar can provide 69% of the US's energy needs. And while I don't like nuclear power, there's no need to go to Africa, Canada [ccnr.org] has some rich uranium deposits. According to the World Nuclear Association [world-nuclear.org] Canada mines more uranium than any other country.

    But thats where putting them on buildings sounds smart. IE supplement the power as close to the demand, and knock down one of the big problems of big buildings (they channel wind) at the same time.

    I don't know if you saw it but one of the proposals for a new World Trade Center had a wind generator in between two buildings with other proposals also including wind power [gothamgazette.com].

    Falcon
  • by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @01:21AM (#23321086)

    A considerable foundation must be poured of reinforced concreted, which may have to be anchored to bedrock, but IANACE (...civil engineer...).
    Denmark is known for its wind turbines. I can guarantee you that there isn't any bedrock involved. Also, some of the turbines are in swamps or otherwise barely-arable land. Foundations are a solved problem, you CAN build a castle in a swamp these days.
  • Re:More questions (Score:3, Informative)

    by llefler (184847) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @01:32AM (#23321122)
    I agree it was a bad article. I think they should grab a journalism student from a nearby university (MU) to fix it for them.

    I can answer some questions from the research I have done, and can give an educated guess on the others.

    Are the turbines really powering the town, or is that going into the grid in general?

    The turbines are connected directly to the city's high voltage line, which is in turn connected to external generation. IE. the grid. The 4 turbines for the city (Loess Hills) are on a ridge on the west side of town. A couple miles away on the east side of town is the Cow Branch wind farm. It was the proximity to this wind farm that made Loess Hills feasible.

    The article mentions the landowner that set the thing up. So is it privately owned, or part of the city?

    I thought I read that the city owned the land, but all I find now is that they are installed on 'agricultural lands within the city limits'. The Cow Branch wind farm is built on land leased from local farmers. They install their tower and build a road to access it, and the owner continues to farm around them. Just like with cell towers.

    What the heck does John Deere have to do with anything?

    John Deere has been financing wind farms. John Deere has a name and reputation that is respected by farmers, and they are leveraging that trust and their credit business unit to get in the energy business. [deere.com] But no green and yellow turbines so far.

    Again, here's a link to Wind Capital Group. [windcapitalgroup.com]

  • by Jyms (598745) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:41AM (#23321832)
    I am all for alternative/renewable energy, but we still have a very long way to go. In my experience, most people who are very outspoken about alternative energy have never had to rely on it.

    I grew up on a farm that is not on the "grid". For more than 20 years my parents have relied on solar energy (photo voltaic). Luckily they live in a "desert", so there is plenty of sunshine.

    Their panels deliver 36 Volts at 42 Amps. This is stored in a 36 Volt battery bank. From there it is fed to the house through a 4kW inverter.

    The (60) panels are mounted on a huge movable structure that is manually reorientated to the sun regularly. Hot water is obtained by making fire under a drum with a gas geyser as backup.

    All fridges and freezers are special low energy high efficiency and cost about 10 times what "normal" fridges and freezers cost.

    We used solar water heating at one point, but the problem is that it is to hot in summer and you can't just flick a switch in winter if the water is not warm enough.

    This system works fine when my parents are on the farm on their own, but as soon as they have guests, they almost always have to rely on the backup diesel generator. While they are settled into their routine, the system is quite reliable, but as soon as the routine is broken, you have problems. There is no affordable way to accurately determine how much energy is left in the battery bank and how long it will last.

    Their energy costs are astronomical, compared to mine, but more importantly, their entire lives are controlled by it. Every decision that they make have to take into consideration the energy effects. It drives my wife nuts that she has to notify my mom in advanced if she wants to blow-dry her hair.

    Yes, a lot of these problem may not exist if you are on the "grid". Removing the storage from the equation could make a huge difference, but it is still a very expensive exercise.

    We can save fuel by making cars more efficient, carpooling, using public transport or even just slowing down. In order to get a workable solution, we have to find a balance between cost, saving and inconvenience.

    At the moment, alternative energy is like asking everybody to slow down. For the average person, the inconvenience will outweigh the savings.
  • Re:Not Really... (Score:4, Informative)

    by donscarletti (569232) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @07:05AM (#23322456)
    Exactly, a town (or a grid) doesn't need energy it needs power. It doesn't matter how many Gigawatt hours something produces it is how many watts it produces when they are needed. A grid needs a certain current and if it doesn't get it things go wrong. It doesn't matter how much energy you harvest over the fiscal year, what matters is if your generation is keeping up with your consumption in a moment to moment basis. It takes hours to shut down a coal furnace and months to shut down a nuclear reactor so until meteorology comes far enough, these things will have to keep running whenever there is supposed to be load lest the grid brown out whenever the wind calms down. Currently, when these things spin, all that happens is the load on a turbine in some power plant reduces and its energy is dissipated in a cooling tower instead. If you want something that can pick up the slack for these things, you'll have to go oil, gas or hydro. This requires burning something rare, expensive and environmentally nasty or flooding a valley somewhere which is far worse than what we're doing now with coal and nuclear.
  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @07:07AM (#23322466) Homepage Journal
    HVDC transmission typically has 3% loss per 1000 km http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HVDC#Advantages_of_HVDC_over_AC_transmission [wikipedia.org] though this can be reduced at higher capacity: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/03/coast-to-coast.html [blogspot.com]
  • Re:Not Really... (Score:3, Informative)

    by donscarletti (569232) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @09:06AM (#23323428)

    For this you need a very particular dam. You can't use a run-of-river dam because they don't store water, you need also one who's lake bed is much higher than the turbines so that the dam still has head pressure when its empty which pretty much rules out any dam that was designed for irrigation. You need a decent sized lake at the level that the power turbines discharge to which is fairly rare since collecting water underneath would lessen the head difference. Most dams like this are being used for power storage already and the current grids are relatively stable; to build enough hydro systems to balance out wind where one could easily expect that national generation might drop to 30% of its designed output or less for extended periods of time one would need to build a lot more dams which of course smack around the environment in a way that would make a Captain Planet villain weep.

    You also have to figure in the transmission losses to and from the dam, the inefficiency of the pump, the turbine, motor and the dynamo there will need to be several times as much power going into this system as coming out. Of course that does not mean wind couldn't be used to make this power, simply that you will need several times as many generators as its proponents claim, which would have a massive impact on the world as they and their associated transmission lines are installed.

  • Re:Not Really... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kesuki (321456) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @08:17PM (#23332368) Journal
    You really really should consider Algae production as a viable solar energy source, for both vehicles, and electric production. they say algae ponds the size of the state of Maryland could replace all our reliance on oil, but what they forget to mention, is that you only get about 30% of the energy in the plant as extracted algae oil... the rest is STILL usable as an energy source, it can either be converted to ethanol (it's not cellulose, because algae are a simple water organism, not a thick gravity defying plant) and it's also usable as animal feedstock, and as fertilizer... and when dried is combustible.

    best of all, algae live in both seawater and freshwater. so we could pump billions of gallons of seawater perhaps with giant wind powered pumps (coastal area tends to be windy enough, and you don't loose energy to electric conversion etc)
    to ponds in areas that have little or not economic use (deserts, non areable soil areas, etc) algea is easier to cultivate in ponds, or closed systems, but ocean cultivation is not entirely outside the equasion either... the main problem is water is slow to transfer oxygen and carbon dioxide, so simple fishtank style areators are needed to get maximum algeal bloom density... but algea also need te be free of certain pollutants and need certain additives to grow faster than in nature... but like any technology the true cost is subject to economies of scale...

    it might cost too much right now for algea to replace anything but $4 a gallon diesel right now, with just one energy company seriously exploring algea ponds, but if 50% of energy companies were running millions of algea ponds world wide the costs for all the componets needed would be less, and the profitiability would likely be better. as long as all the byproducts were used, anyways.

  • Re:Not Really... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 08, 2008 @01:30AM (#23334394)
    The Rock Port Electric Coop does own these wind turbines. They are just west of town on top of the bluffs over looking the Missouri River bottom, and Interstate 29. There are 3 or 4 of them up there, and I thought Rock Port owned them all, but maybe not. The electricity is fed into a substation in town, and any excess is then dumped to the local grid, the lines I believe owned by St. Joseph Light and Power Co. The town has its own power company and has for years. Previously they purchased power from the grid, and obviously still do on calm days. The population of Rock Port is less than 1700 people.

    What is even more interesting is the farm of, IIRC, 28 of these same wind turbines just east of town a few miles. It is quite a sight, breathtaking actually. I don't have all the details, merely what I've been told by my father who lives in Tarkio, 8 miles east of Rock Port. This larger farm was funded in part by local investors, but mostly by MO state tax revenue. It is connected directly to the grid. I've driven past it a few times in the last two years when visiting the folks, and as of December 2007 they still weren't *live* yet. The blades are feathered and locked. Last I heard, again around December, there were still glitches being worked out in the software that controls the "aiming" of the array. Instead of using guide vanes as on the windmills of old, these behemoths are aimed into the wind via computer.

    As one would expect, it will take quite a few years for these things to pay for themselves. The only folks who have made money so far are the farmers who leased the easements the towers stand on. In late summer when the corn is tall, it's really quite a site to drive past and see 300+ foot tall wind turbine towers "growing" up out of the corn. This local corn, coincidentally, is much more likely to end up as fuel ethanol than food. Less than 15 miles south of Rock Port on I-29 is an ethanol plant in Craig, MO.

    If you find yourself driving from Kansas City to Omaha up Interstate 29 on a clear day, look to the east when you see the Rock Port Mo exit signs. Not only can you see the turbines on the bluffs, but you can also see quite a few of the array of 28 off in the distance, which are at least 5-6 miles east of the interstate.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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