Opting for Wind Power

Don Vasatka,
The School of Environmental Studies

Wind power has always been present in the background of alternative energy resources – an available source of energy but one which is not used to its fullest potential because of its high costs. With increasing fuel prices and more efficient technology, the outlook for wind power in the state of Minnesota is brighter than ever. Currently, Minnesota is only behind California in the state’s use of wind power. Approximately 1.5% of the state’s electricity comes from wind turbines. Of this power, about 90% of it comes from large-scale wind farms. The rest of the power comes from independently owned wind turbines which usually operate on a smaller scale.

As with almost any power source, wind power has advantages and disadvantages. Wind power is a renewable resource which emits no pollutants. It is also easy to manage, usually requiring little maintenance once installed. The disadvantages to wind power are that wind turbines can cause radio interference, and it requires that wind must be blowing to be effective. In Minnesota, we are fortunate enough to have a reliable wind source in the western part of the state. With reliable winds, we are a prime place to operate large-scale wind farms.

For homes located in rural areas, it may be feasible to install a small wind turbine. The Alternative Energy Store recommends a property size of at least one acre and an average wind speed of 10 miles per hour. A small, typical wind turbine is installed on a tower 80-100 feet tall and is rated for 10 kilowatts. A 10-kilowatt wind turbine costs about $25,000 plus shipping and installation. Advantages of a wind turbine include reduced (or possibly eliminated) electric utility bills and an offset of as much as 6 tons of greenhouse gases annually. Wind turbines are available in sizes ranging from 5 to 15 kilowatts. Visit www.altenergystore.com for more information.

In the past, people have had to rely on the utility company to choose its mix of energy sources and have had no say in how the energy is produced. Recently, for some consumers this has changed. Several electrical utilities in the last couple of years have made the option of wind power available to its customers. They are able to purchase blocks of electricity generated by the turbines for a very small charge. There are several programs, but most households usually pay only a couple of extra dollars a month more to have wind generated electricity. For more information, consult your local utility companies and inquire if they offer this service.

Hopefully, as technology improves and demand increases, we will be able to increase our reliance on renewable energy sources, including wind power. With energy availability becoming scarcer, we need to make sure that as we look at our future energy needs, we can create a plan that relies less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy resources.

Read Up

Energy Forever: Wind Power, Ian Graham, 1999

Wind Energy Basics: A Guide to Small & Micro Wind Systems, Paul Gipe, 1999

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