With rising natural gas prices and new improvements in technology, experts say using wind power to generate electricity is looking more attractive. But does Ohio have what it takes? A new municipal wind farm near Bowling Green is showing that wind can be a cost-effective alternative to creating new generation. A wind monitoring project about to be launched on Lake Erie could demonstrate the potential for large-scale development of off-shore wind farms. And a new economic study shows that Ohio has many of the key elements needed to become a manufacturing center for wind turbine technology. It could all add up to a new focus on renewable energy for the state. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.
Experts say wind power will never replace nuclear or coal-fired power plants to produce the bulk of our energy needs. For one thing, even in the Great Plains the wind doesn't blow all the time and electricity - unlike other forms of energy - can't be stored. For another, it takes a lot of wind turbines to replace a single nuclear reactor. But those same experts believe wind does have a place in Ohio's total energy portfolio. And one city in the Northwest part of the state is now leading the way.
Just a few miles west of Bowling Green, the propeller-like blades of two hundred-meter tall wind turbines turn in a stiff morning breeze. Utilities director Daryl Stockburger says even when the wind changes direction, the turbines keep turning.
Daryl Stockburger: What you see varying is the output. Output dropped down significantly, then it changed direction... To me, they are an engineering marvel. And certainly wind power has much less environmental impact than many of the other resources we use today.
Stockburger says lowering health impacts from traditional power plant emissions is just one of the reasons he decided to give wind a try. Cost was another factor. Stockburger says electricity produced by wind is now cheaper than natural gas and competitive with nuclear power. Bowling Green and eight other communities banded together to pay for erecting the turbines. Local citizens paid into a green energy fund that helped pay down the $4.8 million price tag. Stockburger says they all reap the benefits.
Daryl Stockburger: It's a matter of revenues available up front and market prices - like buying a car. We plan to pay the units off in 13 years. That leaves 17 years of very low-cost electricity.
Since the turbines began operating nearly a year ago, Stockburger says they have met or exceeded a combined predicted output of 3.6 MW. That's enough electricity to power 950 homes. This month Stockburger hopes to start generating power from two new wind turbines erected nearby. But he says there likely won't be much more investment in Bowling Green's wind power until the federal government renews a wind production tax credit for municipalities. Phil Dougherty is with the U.S. Department of Energy's wind power program. It's his job to help increase the use of wind energy.
Phil Dougherty: Those traditional generation technologies have been financed with the backing of the federal government, in the case of hydropower, for over a hundred years. But wind is a very attractive resource for a number of reasons and the federal government has done a few major things related to wind.
And Congress has renewed a wind production tax credit for for-profit utilities. It's only available for a year, but it's one reason why Bill Spratley is excited about a new wind monitoring project about to go up on Lake Erie. Spratley is director of Green Energy Ohio, a statewide non-profit fostering wind power development. Working with the city of Cleveland, Green Energy plans to erect a 100-M wind monitor on the Cleveland water crib, about three-and-a-half miles off-shore. He hopes to show that wind resources over the lake are even better than those on land, an asset that could entice utility companies to consider building off-shore wind farms.
Bill Spratley: It's actually more expensive to do it in water, it's about at least 30% more expensive. The wind map shows a great potential there, so we need to go out in the lake and see if it's true.
If the wind resource does exist, Spratley believes multiple Lake Erie wind farms could generate as much as a thousand MW of power. That's nearly the same amount of electricity generated by a nuclear power plant like Davis-Besse near Toledo. But even if wind farms in the lake never become a reality, Spratley says there's another way Ohio could capitalize on the growing U.S. interest in wind energy.
Bill Spratley: There's a recent study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project that shows 12,000 Ohio jobs can be created by taking the kind of industry that exists in Europe and matching it to the skilled manufacturing businesses that we have right here in Ohio right now.
Spratley believes Ohio could become a new center for wind turbine manufacture. He says steelmaker Timkin in Canton is already a major player in the manufacture of ball bearings for wind turbines now made in Denmark or Spain. Ohio-based companies like Owens-Corning and Lubrizol are also making wind technology components. But for Ohio to outstrip neighboring Pennsylvania in wind manufacture or states like California and Texas in wind production, Spratley and others believe there's one other thing that's needed. That's to follow those other states' lead in mandating that a percentage of Ohio's electricity come from renewable resources. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.