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Gauging the gusts  

How hard does the Wyoming wind blow?

We’ve all heard the half-joking replies that all mean one thing: The wind blows hard, and quite constantly, through most of the state.

The Wyoming Business Council hopes to provide more scientific answers by loaning out anemometers, which measure wind speed, to landowners interested in wind as an energy source.

John Lancaster recently had an anemometer installed on a high, windy ridge at his Glendo-area property.

The wind was blowing so hard when installers came Dec. 3, they had to settle for laying the parts out on the ground. By the following day, however, winds died down enough to stand the column.

“We want to see what the potential is. And it takes a year to find out,” Lancaster said. “It’s a long time, and it costs a lot of money.”

His anemometer is on loan through the Business Council, which wants to empower landowners who may be sitting on an increasingly valuable resource, said Dale Hoffman, the council’s energy program manager. The measurements drawn from anemometers help landowners evaluate whether wind is a developable resource, and offer the information they need to negotiate effectively with companies seeking wind tower locations.

Landowners pay a $4,500 installation fee for the 50-meter towers, which are on loan for one year, Hoffman said. Also available are several 30-meter towers that measure wind for residential generation potential. The Business Council contracts with KB Energy of Arlington for installation.

At the heart of the program are computers inset in each anemometer. Those record temperature and wind speed and direction at three different heights on each tower. The data chips are forwarded to Intermountain Labs in Sheridan for information analysis, Hoffman said. The landowners and the Business Council get copies of all data, which is also made public because tax dollars help fund the program.

That can be good for landowners, Hoffman said. Companies wanting to pursue additional anemometers or even wind farms can access the information, but property owners are in a better position because they also have the raw data. Quarterly reports are the landowners’ property.

“It’s up to them what they do from there,” Hoffman said. “In many parts of this state, the interest is so high they are contacted by a developer.”

The only thing landowners need to attend to once the anemometers are up and running is routine retrieval of the data chips, Hoffman said. That’s not much of a problem, rancher Lancaster said, weather permitting.

“We change them every month, at least, just to make sure they don’t have a breakdown,” Lancaster said. Plus, the regular switching out means technicians can get a wind curve reading established faster. “So every time the snow gets shallow enough I can make it, I go up and change the chip out,” Lancaster said.

He made a home-styled anemometer in the early 1970s, a little 10-foot pole. Wind registered only at about 12 knots, he said, barely above the 10 knots he needed to sell the resource.

Now, technology has improved, and he has a windier place – not to mention, the demand for energy is higher, he said.

“But, it’s still a long shot,” Lancaster surmised. If he does find a solid wind resource, his hope is to sell the power to the grid, although he noted plenty of people in the Platte County area are running converters to power their homes, at least in part, with wind.

Miles away at the northern boundary of Wyoming near Sheridan, John Dewey hopes to harness the wind to power his place and to sell to the power company. Crews stood his anemometer mere days ago, and he’ll retrieve the first chip in early January.

Dewey also has attempted a homemade anemometer using irrigation pipe to fashion a tower 30 meters tall. But the 50-meter variety offered through the Business Council retrieves much better readings at an ideal height, he said. He’ll still stand his homemade tower and compare readings with those from the Business Council tower, covering more ground.

“I don’t know whether there’s wind out there,” Dewey said. “This is the thing that’s the deciding factor.”

Provided he has the resource, Dewey hopes to power his house on Big Goose Road with home-grown wind. Already, he has permits in hand from the county and is assembling a generator to convert power.

Wind is fascinating as an energy source, is in high demand and helps build self-sufficiency, he said. If wind generation companies show an interest based on the Business Council tower findings, he’ll appreciate the opportunity to diversify his ranching business. And he’d like to sell some to the power company, although those negotiations are coming along slowly.

“I imagine it’ll be a year before we have a full reading and a valuation on what the wind is going to be,” he said. “We aren’t going to know until we get these numbers in. You know, those turbines cost a million and a half a piece, and ranchers and farmers don’t have that kind of money. So we’re going to be looking at an outfit that’ll come in and put them up.”

From Sheridan south to Cheyenne and from west to east, anyone with eyes on the Wyoming countryside should be spotting plenty of the tall towers, Hoffman said.

“You can’t believe the number of anemometers there are around this state,” he said. “We’re talking dozens.”

Some are put up by developers; others are sensors to determine the viability of purely residential wind power. Eastern Wyoming, particularly around Chugwater, is the hot spot, Hoffman said, although the area from Medicine Bow east to the Nebraska state line is heating up fast.

“Nothing we’ve done has resulted in a wind farm yet,” Hoffman said. “But, it looks like it’s going to in the reasonably near future. If things go like are anticipated, they’re looking at 17,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity in this state in 10 years.”

By Rena Delbridge
Star-Tribune correspondent

Casper Star-Tribune

26 December 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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