Cities harness the wind
Citing energy costs and environmental concerns, cities and counties throughout the country are taking advantage of a force of Mother Nature: wind power. Some are using large towers, while others are using small turbines or are tapping into some innovative uses for windmills, though there are limits to wind power’s application.
To power some of its facilities, Reno, Nev., has installed six small wind turbines on rooftops of city-owned structures, such as its city hall and wastewater treatment plant, and is planning to install four more, says Jason Geddes, environmental services administrator. The small turbines cost $527,000 and were paid for using utility rebates from the state and federal stimulus dollars. The power generated is being used to electrify various city facilities and will save the city about $12,000 a year in energy costs, Geddes says.
At the same time, the city is trying to verify the effectiveness of wind power by keeping track of the wind force and how much power is generated. “The goal is to come up with a database,” Geddes says, adding that wind power is a more variable power source than others. “Wind is very specific. You can get different wind levels on one side of the building from another.”
Rock Port, Mo., relies on four wind turbines that provide about 25 percent of its power, but the results are sporadic. “You only get power when the winds are blowing, and there’s no way to store it,” says Rock Port Superintendent Sam Landsdown.
Also, wind farms’ need for space means few cities will be able to rely solely on wind turbines for their power, says Blaine Collison, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Parternship, a voluntary program that supports procurement of various types of green power, including wind. “It’s not possible to power an entire city with wind power unless you’re talking about a small town with lots of open land around it,” Collison says. “Most cities’ loads would require wind farms.”
The wind energy industry installed 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity in 2009, which broke all previous records and is enough to serve more than 2.4 million homes, according to the Washington-based American Wind Energy Association.
Anne Martin is a Chicago-based freelance writer.
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