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Powerful Living Wind Talkers The pros and cons of wind power F


or many, answers to our nation’s energy and climate change challenges lie in the wind. From commercial wind farms to backyard set-ups, the skyscraping structures with massive rotating blades have become synonymous with “going green.”


At the end of 2012, wind generated about 60,000 megawatts of electricity— enough to serve more than 15 million homes. Wind power production is booming, with output increasing leaps and bounds over the past several years. Costs are dropping for wind power projects, although federal subsidies are still necessary for wind to compete with traditional sources of electricity gen- eration. A January 2012 study from the U.S. Department of Energy reports it costs between 24 percent and 39 percent less to produce wind energy on a per-kilowatt-hour basis today than it did a decade ago.


Statistics from early 2013 showed 50 electric co-ops either owned wind tur- bines or bought output from wind farms, amounting to 4.3 gigawatts, or about 9 percent of the U.S. wind generating capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.


Like any resource, wind has pluses and minuses when it comes to generating electricity. Here’s a look at how wind power stacks up.


Intermittency issues Wind power development opportunities vary greatly throughout the coun-


try. It’s viable in many states, ranging from the Great Plains and Midwest as well as the Atlantic Coast, but is limited in the Southeast and Southwest. Yet even in locations with strong wind resources, an active wind turbine typically only generates 30 percent to 40 percent of its “capacity factor”—the total electricity it could generate operating around the clock. A 2010 National Renewable Energy Laboratory survey found less than 1 percent of land in states like Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia was windy enough to achieve at least 30 percent capacity factor. Wind is also an “intermittent” fuel source. Wind doesn’t blow all the time, so electricity generation is not reliable or constant. Energy from wind usually peaks in early morning hours, when most people are still sleeping. Intermittency means coal and natural gas-fi red power plants must act as


Wind turbines at the Blue Canyon Wind Farm northwest of Lawton, Okla. Blue Canyon is one of WFEC’s fi ve wind farm projects that generate wind energy for some of Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives. The wind energy is ultimately consumed by member-owners of electric cooperatives. Photos by Mark Daugherty


6 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


backups so electricity continues to fl ow as needed when the wind isn’t blowing. Backup power sources increase the total cost of wind generation. As of now, technology to store power from renewable energy—so it can be used later—is still immature and expensive. Wind and other renewable energies could become more valuable as advancements in energy storage systems are tested. First developed in the 1970s, utility-scale energy storage is becoming more economical on a large scale thanks to recent manufacturing break- throughs that increase the longevity while lowering the cost of batteries. With energy storage, the electricity produced by wind can be used during times of peak demand—the electric utility industry’s version of rush-hour traffi c, when power use skyrockets—to avoid purchasing expensive supplemental power. “Energy storage would also reduce the intermittency of wind, which allows for more effi cient use of backup generators, among other benefi ts,” says Doug Danley, the technical liaison on renewable and distributed energy for the Cooperative Research Network, the research and development arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “CRN is continuing to study energy storage systems so that electric cooperatives can best use these technolo- gies to the advantage of their consumer-members.”


By Magen Howard


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