Long dismissed as a wasteland by wind-energy producers, it turns out Florida does have enough breeze to generate lots of electricity – but it will take some reaching to get it, according to new federal findings.
The U.S. Department of Energy released a report Tuesday that argues wind energy can spread from 39 states to the rest of the nation by installing taller generators.
Those propellers on poles would have to be more than incrementally higher to tap profitable winds at higher altitudes. They would need to grow from a typical 260 feet tall to as much as 460 feet tall.
Those heights merely are at a hub that anchors three blades. With one of those blades pointing up, the machine, called a turbine, would be nearly 660 feet tall, or more than 200 feet taller than Orlando’s tallest building, the SunTrust Center.
Jose Zayas, DOE director for Wind and Water Power Technologies, said the study found wind velocities at higher altitudes that would make it economically worthwhile to install a new breed of turbines.
Wind supplies more than 4 percent of the nation’s electricity, with most wind farms spread along a swath of the nation’s interior, in California and Oregon and in Texas, the nation’s biggest producer.
“States primarily in the Southeast, as well as in the West and the Northeast, really started glowing, per se, with a potential that many believed did not exist,” Zayas said of the report’s conclusions.
In Midwestern states, turbines chop away at robust winds that can blow around the clock.
But Florida and the Southeast are relatively heavily forested, which creates friction for wind closest to the ground. Raising turbines to greater heights would find winds like those blowing closer to the ground in the Midwest.
Release of the DOE report was pegged to the annual American Wind Energy Association in Orlando this week.
Solar and wind are touted as clean forms of energy that are free of emissions linked to smog, acid rain and climate change, and consume little water. But they also are dogged by criticism by some as visual blight and for taking a large toll on a variety of birds, including eagles.
Under development in Europe now, the super-tall turbines would need technology advances for transporting such large pieces of machinery in the U.S. and for keeping them standing in Florida during a hurricane. Also needed would be a new generation of monster construction cranes.
Advocates think those challenges will be conquered soon.
“Wind-turbine technology has advanced in just a few decades from the Model T era to more like that of a Tesla Model S,” association CEO Tom Kiernan said.
A leading maker of turbines, Siemens Corp., is ready to share its tall-turbine experience in Europe.
“Taller wind towers represent a significant growth opportunity for wind energy in the United States,” said Orlando-based Jacob Andersen, CEO of Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Onshore Americas.
Gulf Power became the leading Florida utility in wind energy recently by agreeing to buy electricity from the Kingfisher Wind plant in Oklahoma, which goes into production this year. The Panhandle utility will buy the output of 89 turbines, or enough to supply nearly 51,000 homes.
The parent company of Florida Power & Light Co., NextEra Energy, describes itself as the biggest owner of wind energy in North America, producing enough power for a city the size of Chicago.
But FPL nixed a major test of wind energy and has not opted to import wind-generated electricity, choosing to rely on natural gas, nuclear and a small but growing amount of solar. The company has not reviewed the DOE report, a spokeswoman said.
Orlando Utilities Commission is considering a small-scale test of wind technology.
“In reality we wish we had wind,” said Byron Knibbs, OUC vice president. He said it would be a good fit with the utility’s pursuit of solar because wind can make power at night and during cloudy weather.
“But I’m looking out from my office right now, and I can’t see a leaf move,” Knibbs said.
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