March 12, 2008
Tom Carnahan was not just whistling in the wind when he said Missouri had wind power potential. He started Wind Capital Group to prove his point. Today, Wind Capital Group and financial partner John Deere Wind Energy have invested $225 million to build three commercial wind farms in northwest Missouri. They have created clean energy, alternative income for farmers, new jobs, and tax revenue for rural Missouri communities.
Carnahan got the turbines turning, and now this developer is scouting out other wind farm sites in Missouri. "Wind power is a new cash crop in Missouri," says Carnahan, president of Wind Capital Group. "It's exciting that farmers right here in rural Missouri are the ones leading the way toward more energy independence for our country."
Carnahan did his homework. The St. Louis lawyer-turned-renewable-energy-entrepreneur targeted areas that had the best prevailing winds and that had electric transmission lines in place. Then, in 2005, he targeted and landed a customer -- Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., Springfield. AECI provides wholesale power to six regional and 51 local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, northeast Oklahoma and southeast Iowa that serve more than 850,000 customers. AECI committed to 156 megawatts of wind power from the three projects in northwest Missouri in 2006.
Bluegrass Ridge Wind Farm near King City was the first constructed. It is currently running at 90%, according Ken Hensley, a project manager for Wind Capital Group. "After mechanical problems are worked out, we hope to be running at 100% soon," he says. The other two 50-MW wind projects include Cow Branch Wind Project at Rock Port, and Conception Wind Project at Conception Junction. Combined, the three commercial wind farms will provide electric power for about 45,000 homes.
Why is wind power taking off? Jim Crawford, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist, Rock Port, says the short answer is $100 a barrel crude oil. "We all know that the price of gasoline has gone up dramatically the past couple of years," Crawford says. "When the price of oil increases, other energy sources soon follow suit. Other reasons include Missouri's growing population and demand for electrical power that is dipping into electricity reserves.
Against the wind
Wind power comes with its own set of challenges. Wind turbines do not work 24/7. When the breeze stops or during high-wind storms, they shut down. Because of this idle time and the small number of wind farms in Missouri, AECI officials predict wind power will contribute only 1% to 2% of its total energy mix in 2008.
Yet another challenge is the growing demand for wind turbines. "There is now a three-year waiting list for new turbines, which are engineered in Germany and made in India," Hensley says.
Wind power developers, farmers and agricultural organizations says further wind farm development in Missouri depends on the extension of renewable energy tax credits, incentives and loan guarantees by U.S. legislators. The current wind energy tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2008.
Read the report, "Prime wind," in the March issue of Missouri Ruralist for more information on wind energy development in Missouri.
Wind Farm Facts
A wind turbine tower stands 262 feet tall and weighs nearly 200 tons.
Concrete foundations for the wind turbine tower are 15 feet in diameter and 34 feet in depth.
The largest construction crane in North America is used to erect the wind turbine tower.
Each wind turbine generates at 600 volts.
Farmers/landowners who lease their land for wind farms receive $3,000 to $6,000 per wind turbine per year.
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