By a quirk of nature, a small pocket of Allen County has a wind flow fast enough to attract the interest of a company that builds wind farms to generate electricity.
Although wind farms have been more often associated with California and the East Coast, better technology and demand for alternative energy are making them more practical for other areas. Indiana has no wind farms, but Orion Energy LLC, based in California, plans to build Indiana’s first one in Benton County, on the Illinois border northwest of Lafayette. The farm is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2007 and will have a maximum of 135 turbines that will be capable of producing about 200 megawatts of electricity each year ““ enough electricity to serve at least 50,000 homes.
The Allen County Board of Zoning Appeals recently gave Community Energy Inc. approval to build a 190-foot meteorological tower on farmland outside of Woodburn. The company will use the tower to analyze wind and weather conditions to determine the feasibility of building a wind farm, a cluster of towers with turbines that are essentially 21st-century windmills.
Paul Copleman, marketing operations manager for Pennsylvania-based Community Energy, says the next step is approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure the tower will not interfere with flight navigation. Community Energy will need to collect data for at least a year, “Then we can answer all of the questions people are dying to ask like: How big is it going to be? Where? How many turbines?”
The company’s interest in Allen County comes at a time when efforts to increase the state’s use of renewable energy in general ““ including commercial wind generation ““ are gaining momentum. Although wind farms are new to Indiana, they could prove to be profitable for Hoosiers.
The pros and cons
Advancing turbine technology is making wind power generation more efficient and decreasing or eliminating many of the downsides of wind energy. Historically, wind power was costly because turbines were expensive and required a lot of maintenance. But the cost of wind power is becoming competitive with coal, and perhaps more importantly, wind does not produce toxic emissions.
Wind is a clean and inexhaustible source of energy. A commercial-scale wind turbine prevents 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from going into the air, the amount that a 500-acre forest absorbs each year.
Brian Cocca, development associate with Community Energy, says each machine creates 5″‚million kilowatt hours per year, which matches the power consumption of about 550 average homes each year.
The main drawbacks to wind power are aesthetics and the potential hazard to migratory birds and bats. Migratory birds meet an untimely death if they fly into turbine blades. There is also a concern that the turbines create noise vibrations that attract mosquitoes, which in turn attract bats. Some fear the turbines could harm endangered bat species.
Wind power can also be an unpredictable source of energy; turbines, obviously, only produce energy when there is wind.
Wind turbine towers have to be about 50 to 80 meters (164 to 262 feet) high ““ the higher the tower, the higher the wind velocity. And the turbine blades themselves can be about as big as a school bus.
“Some people don’t like the looks of windmills. For Indiana it’s a great opportunity, and I’d be happy to see lots of windmills,” said Leigh Raymond, a political science professor and associate director of the Climate Change Research Center at Purdue University.
The new generation of turbines turn more slowly so birds can more easily avoid the blades. Cocca says the company does extensive environmental studies to determine whether a potential wind farm site is included in the flight path of any migratory birds. He says the biggest risk is at night, when birds follow ridgelines as a flight guide. Ridgelines won’t be a problem in Allen County.
“Relative to other human behaviors, wind farms have a very, very, very low impact on the well-being of birds,” Copleman says.
Wind power production would be particularly beneficial for Hoosier farmers. Farmers can earn income by leasing land to energy companies for the wind towers. Farmers can make about $4,000 per turbine. And the turbines don’t reduce the farmer’s useable acreage significantly because the farmer can still use the land around the tower for crops or grazing land.
Why Allen County?
A U.S. Department of Energy map of the wind speed in Indiana shows that the spot to be tested, in eastern Allen County, is one of the few immediately surrounding Fort Wayne that has potential for wind production. There are also two large areas with high wind speeds northwest and southeast of Lafayette that could prove to be good sites for commercial wind farms. One will be the site of the Benton County wind farm.
“There’s as much as 40,000 megawatts’ worth of wind-generated electricity potential in Indiana,” said Dave Menzer, president of Citizens Action Coalition. “People may not think of Indiana as particularly windy, but the northern third of our state has real wind potential at 100″‚feet,” he said.
Renewable energy standard
The Indiana Coalition for Renewable Energy and Economic Development wants the Indiana General Assembly to pass a renewable energy standard in 2007. The standard would require 10″‚percent of Indiana’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources ““ such as wind power ““ by 2017.
If adopted, the standard would force electric companies to buy some of their power from renewable energy suppliers, driving up demand for wind farms, which sell the energy they produce to electric companies.
The interesting thing about the champions of the renewable energy standard is that they are not just granola munchers trying to put the smack-down on greedy, air-polluting power companies and forcing them to go green. Some conservatives, whose interests are encouraging economic development and increasing national security, are joining the environmentalists.
About 20 states have a renewable energy standard. Legislation was floated in Indiana’s General Assembly last year but was thrown to a summer study committee.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a strong advocate for developing renewable energy long before it became cool, wrote a letter in support of the renewable energy standard. He described last year’s bill as a “forward-looking initiative to facilitate the use of more renewable energy resources to generate electricity in Indiana.” But Gov. Mitch Daniels, while supportive of renewable energy, does not want to place a mandate on power companies.
“I think our senator is ahead of the curve, and our governor is way behind the curve on this particular issue,” Raymond said. “Wind is a form of energy whose time has come.”
Stacey Stumpf is an editorial writer for The Journal Gazette. Contact her at 260-461-8343 or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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