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Wind power growing with gusto

Wind power is no longer at pie-in-the-sky source of renewable energy but a viable economic driver. According to Jim Green, of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, wind power can be a moneymaker for farmers and ranchers. Green spoke to an audience of about 100 at the annual Ag Day in New Castle Wednesday.Ranchers and farmers can make money leasing their land for wind farms that generate electricity for utility companies. On a smaller scale, they can also help reduce their monthly utility payments by generating their own electricity with wind-driven mills or turbines.But there’s a catch. There has to be enough wind to make energy.Green said his lab has produced a computer-generated map of Colorado that shows the most favorable areas for wind power. The best places are in the flat, wind-swept eastern plains and high mountain ridges. Least likely places for enough wind to run a mill or turbine are the sheltered valleys and forested mountain slopes of western Colorado that cut the wind, he said.However, he did not discourage the ranchers at Ag Day about the potential for wind power in the county.”Someone has to go out and prospect for it,” he said.Green illustrated the potential of wind power for ranchers. He said a farmer in southeastern Kansas, on the plains, installed a turbine on a 100-foot tower that daily produces 10 kilowatts of power. He saves $2,800 a year on his electricity bill and spent $20,000 to install the system, Green said.The best combination of renewable energy is wind and solar power. “Wind and sun are complementary,” he said. Sunlight is stronger in the summer when winds are lightest, a pattern that’s pretty typical for most of the (lower) 48 states.Used together, “they will deliver energy more consistently throughout the year,” he said.The combination has been used successfully at a weekend cabin in South Park where the owner installed photovoltaic solar cells and a wind turbine that charge batteries that, in turn, provide electricity to the cabin. The turbine rests on a 36-foot tower and turns out 200 Watts a day, he said. The system is backed up by a propane tank.If excess energy is produced, Green said, it has the effect of spinning an electricity meter backwards, which utility companies, such as Xcel in Colorado, either credit to the homeowner or pay for outright.Winds need to have an average speed of 10 miles per hour over a year’s time to be cost effective for generating electricity, he said. The small turbines are most cost-effective when utility bills are over $150 a month.Pay-back periods, when the cost of the system is made up in savings on utility bills, averages about 25 years, Green said.Ranchers and farmers also have options for financial help, Green said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers grants to cover up to 25 percent of the cost of installing a wind-powered electricity-generating system. It also offers guaranteed loans to cover 50 percent of the cost.The big moneymaker for ranchers and farmers are wind farms. Financed by companies with big pockets, they will pay thousands of dollars to lease agricultural lands, Green said.Leases can bring in between $2,500 and $4,000 a year for each turbine. They also bring benefits to local government. Green estimated wind farms in Iowa produce about $2 million a year in property taxes.With those kinds of revenues, “wind power becomes a new kind of cash crop for farmers,” Green said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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