Struggles in Converting to Wind Power

A look inside the struggles in shifting to wind power, including obtaining rights-of-way and funding for transmission lines.

| August 2013

Harvest The Wind Book Cover

"Harvest the Wind" brings readers face-to-face with the people behind the green economy–powered resurgence, focusing on wind power, in Cloud County and communities like it across the United States.

Cover Courtesy Beacon Press

Harvest the Wind (Beacon Press, 2012) by Philip Warburg shows how winds sweeping through the Great Plains once robbed the Farm Belt of its future, stripping away overworked topsoil and creating the dreaded Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Today, this wind power brings new hope to the declining rural communities of the central United States. Nowhere is wind’s promise more palpable than in Cloud County, Kansas, where the soaring turbines of the Meridian Way Wind Farm are boosting incomes and bringing green jobs to a community that has, for decades, watched its children drift away. The following excerpt comes from chapter 9, “Greening the Grid.”

You can buy this book in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Harvest the Wind.

When Meridian Way’s rotors are turning, electrons race down insulated cables to the base of each tower. From there, a network of collector lines gathers all the power produced by the wind farm’s turbines and carries it via miles of underground collector lines to one of two transformer stations at the wind farm site. These transformers then boost the power to 230 kilovolts, readying it for dispatch to the grid. All of this happens almost instantaneously.

Horizon Wind is lucky to have two high-voltage transmission lines nearby. Running through the countryside on tall steel stanchions, these lines carry power to Empire District Electric and Westar, the two utilities that have bought nearly equal shares of Meridian Way’s output. Brad Beecher, chief operating officer of Empire District Electric, leads me through what happens next. Knowing roughly how much power his company’s 160,000 customers use, he has to be sure to feed an equivalent amount of electricity to the grid. “We know how much water our customers are taking from the bathtub and we have to put that much water in the bathtub,” he explains metaphorically.

Empire District’s electricity comes from a variety of sources—mostly from coal and gas, although wind now supplies about 15 percent of its customers’ needs. In addition to owning half of Meridian Way’s output, the company has contracted for all the power coming from Elk River, the Flint Hills wind farm that includes Pete Ferrell’s land. Some of the electrons generated at Meridian Way may actually reach the homes, businesses, and factories of Empire District’s customers, but electrons are notoriously promiscuous. “You can’t tell which electrons flow to our customers’ meters,” Beecher tells me.

Once on the grid, electrons intermingle, not just with other electrons generated by a single company but with all the electrons produced by all the power suppliers that are part of an area’s wholesale power pool. These markets typically cover multistate areas and, in much of the country, are governed by entities known as regional transmission organizations or independent system operators. Empire District is part of the Southwest Power Pool, a consortium of power producers, transmission providers, and electricity distributors stretching across all or part of eight states. The Southwest Power Pool’s origins go back to 1941, when a group of utilities marshaled all available electricity for wartime aluminum production in Arkansas.

8/26/2013 4:12:33 PM

"although wind now supplies about 15 percent of its customers’ needs" That is a rather misleading statement. Wind can supply nothing as it is random and variable. Wind developers get paid for generating electricity, sometimes, while conventional plants are running, anyway. Ask the question "what has been the real, measured, fuel savings as a result of subsidized wind turbines spinning. I guess it will be something between 0% and 50% of the fuel equivalent to the wind power generation.

paul shaw
8/26/2013 1:29:22 PM

Massachusetts has made catastrophic mistakes placing commercial wind turbines too close to residential homes. Most residents describe the noise as torture. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has found commercial wind turbines in Falmouth,Fairhaven,Scituate and Kingston out of compliance with state noise laws but fails to enforce the laws. Massachusetts made severe mistakes

8/25/2013 1:31:52 PM

uptil I looked at the bank draft 4 $5581, I accept brothers friend was like they say actualie receiving money in there spare time on-line.. there dads buddy has been doing this for less than nine months and a short time ago paid for the morgage on their home and bourt Chrysler. read more at,

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