Harvesting the Wind
This article is drawn from the Izaak Walton League's publication, "Landowner's Guide to Wind Energy in the Upper Midwest" by Nancy Lange and William Grant (1995) and is used by permission. See the bottom of this page for information on ordering a copy of this publication.
Energy from the sun, in the form of wind, plant matter, and heat and light, is renewable. Renewable energy offers a clean, cost effective alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power. Producing power from these renewable sources can be far less environmentally damaging than conventional energy supplies. Wind power, more than any other renewable energy technology, is a proven, non-polluting renewable resource that is beginning, and will continue, to play an important role in meeting energy needs in the Upper Midwest.
People have harnessed the wind throughout history to convert wind energy into useable energy. Less than 100 years ago, millions of small windmills provided an important source of power for rural homes throughout the United States. These machines powered water pumps and converted wind into electricity. Beginning in the 1930s, rural electrification programs began to extend the electrical grid into the countryside, replacing wind energy with electricity generated from fossil fuels and large hydroelectric projects. The once abundant wind machines that were a common feature of the rural landscape have largely disappeared from sight.
Today, however, new wind machines are beginning to appear on the landscape, as windy rural areas tap a unique opportunity to benefit from wind power. Modern wind turbine technology now makes it possible to generate cost-effective, clean, renewable electricity on a scale ranging from a single wind turbine for an individual landowner up to large, utility-scale "wind farms." Declining costs and improving technology are quickly making electricity generated from wind energy competitive with all types of nonrenewable fuels, like new coal-fired generation. The price of wind generated electricity has decreased ten times since the early 1980s, to the point that the American Wind Energy Association estimates that within three to four decades, wind power could realistically supply ten to twenty percent of U.S. electricity needs.
Today, the vast majority of the United States' wind energy is produced in the mountain passes of California. However, California is not particularly blessed with a strong wind source. Rather, California's state energy policies have encouraged and accelerated the development of wind power. The real wind power gold mine is found in the central region of the United States. Known as the "Saudi Arabia of wind energy," these 11 contiguous states have the wind energy potential to supply more than the total electricity consumption of the entire United States. North Dakota alone has enough high quality wind resources equal to 36% of the electricity consumption of the lower 48 states.
Despite these impressive wind resources, the wind energy potential in the Upper Midwest is just beginning to be tapped. Wind development is being fueled by the declining costs of wind-generated electricity, restrictions on pollution from fossil fuels, the desire for the environmental benefits associated with a cleaner alternative, favorable state energy policies, and the economic development that investment in wind energy can bring to the region . . .
[One] form of wind power development in the region is the development of large scale wind power plants that are designed to deliver bulk electricity to utilities just like conventional power plants. . . The largest regional wind farm development is occurring along the Buffalo Ridge [just outside of Lake Benton!], a high area stretching from eastern South Dakota, through southwestern Minnesota, and into northeastern Iowa. Xcel Energy formerly Northern States Power (Xcel Energy) contracted for power from a wind developer who installed 73 turbines on landowners' properties which produce 25 megawatts (MW) of electricity. This initial project will apply towards a mandate established by the Minnesota legislature in 1994 for Northern States Power to acquire 425 MW, and perhaps as much as 825 MW, of wind-generated electricity by 2002. Eventually, it is projected that 1,000 turbines or more will be needed to meet this goal.
You can order a copy of this report directly from:
Midwest Office, Izaak Walton League
5701 Normandale Rd., Suite 317
Minneapolis, MN 55424
Phone: (612) 922-1608
$3.00 per copy plus $1.00 shipping
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