Don\'t Throw Caution to the Wind Power

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COLUMBIA - Wind farms are sprinkled far out on the wheat belt of the Midwest, but still manage to fuel homes throughout Missouri.

In fact, wind powers things from telephones to televisions and stovetops to ice boxes. The city of Columbia gets 4.7 percent of its energy from wind or 56 percent of its renewable energy portfolio.

"(Wind) can and should be an important part of the mix of energy resources that we use in this country," Central Electric Power Cooperative CEO Don Shaw said.

Shaw, who has worked with utilities for nearly four decades, endorses using renewable energies as a way to decrease dependence on fossil fuels. In some places like Rock Port, MO., it gets enough wind to power the entire town. While harnessing wind can reduce atmospheric emissions and be done almost anywhere, it does have its shortcomings.

"The reason why wind probably isn't as popular as solar first of all is Columbia isn't in a zone that is particular favorable for wind production," Columbia Water & Light Assistant Director Ryan Williams said. "Second of all, the solar production for this area is larger than what the wind production would be."

According to Shaw, even though solar power has more potential, Missourians get more energy from wind.  Solar power has the ability to produce 7.8 megawatts while wind can produce 458.5 megawatts or 59 times that.  Currently, Columbia Water & Light has five electric customers who use solar panels, but only one with a wind turbine. Three weeks ago, the University of Missouri added a wind turbine on the south side of campus, but Shaw doesn't expect residents to start buying their own.

"(Residential wind turbines) are not high enough and their not located in the right spot to optimize the wind that's available," Shaw said.

According to Shaw, wind blows about one-third of the time in Columbia, which means residential wind turbine owners can generate electricity for roughly eight hours a day. An ideal location to maximize wind potential would be on a high plateau with a high tower in Northwest Missouri, which is where Rock Port is located. So why build a wind turbine in mid-Missouri if it can't maximize its potential?

"(Owners) feel like it's their contribution to reducing their carbon foot print or their contribution to being environmentally sensitive," Shaw said. "They really don't do it because they say 'Gee, I'm going to save myself a lot money by doing this.'"

Residential wind turbines cost on average $15,000 to buy and install. After set up, Shaw said the average wind turbine in mid-Missouri will produce roughly 40 kwh a month. Solar panels with the same potential will produce roughly 200 kwh a month. If an electric cooperative purchased the kilowatts produced for ten cents a kilowatt, the owner would reduce their monthly electric bill by $4 a month. At that rate, the wind turbine would likely break down before paying for itself; something backed up by studies at Northwest Missouri State University.

"You're not going to get your money back," Shaw said. 

He added that the technologies aren't in place for people to maximize the potential of wind power, but the next step should be to focus on viable options to store the produced energy.