星期二, 1月 26, 2021
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Wind energy falling short

 Some people confuse Hutterites with the Amish, who rely on horse-drawn ploughs and avoid modern technologies such as electricity.


Hutterites also separate themselves from the rest of American culture. But unlike the Amish, they embrace innovation, including wind energy.


"Technology is not something that we fall behind in," said John Wipf, who led efforts by this agricultural commune near Alexandria to install two wind turbines in 2005. He got them cheap, especially the first one, which a radio station in Sioux City, Iowa, sold him after lightning split one of the turbine blades.


In the process, the colony became one of only six communities in South Dakota to own its own wind power.


The vast majority of the wind energy in the U.S. comes from large, commercial wind farms with towers more than 200 feet tall. But some wind energy proponents are advocating tiny "distributed power" projects such as this one, which could bring more renewables onto the grid and more local revenue.


"You may never have to build another central generation power plant. You watch. You give them the ability – individuals out there, families, small businesses – they're going to go to town with this," said former Vice President Al Gore, testifying last week before the U.S. Senate.


But the obstacles to that vision are obvious at Oak Lane:


 


Small turbines can be expensive and difficult to maintain, as manufacturers focus on ever-larger machines.



South Dakota mandates low rates for local energy production.



Getting power from scattered wind turbines onto the electric grid is more complex than with a single wind farm.


Wipf says the colony overcame the cost problem with a little luck. He heard of an 80-foot turbine that a Christian radio station was selling. The owner had decided he could not keep it running after the lightning strike.


"He thought he could pray about everything, including the maintenance of it," Wipf said.


So Wipf bought it for $5,000. Then, the company that sold him a replacement blade had an 84-foot turbine to sell. The whole project has cost about $74,000, he said.


But South Dakota sets payments for power generated from such projects based on how much the electric utility saves by having extra power. So Wipf estimates these turbines, though they were cheap, will take about 10 years to pay for themselves.


Walt Bones, whose family owns a dairy near Parker, said he considered building a digester to make electricity from the gas given off by cow manure but decided against it.


"We have been offered 2.17 cents" per kilowatt-hour, he said. "That's not enough to justify a half-a-million-dollar expenditure or more."


Minnesota uses retail rates to set the price for community-generated power, which helps explain why projects are more common there. East River Electric Cooperative – which serves rural areas in both states – has 19 community projects on its grid, only two in South Dakota.


Wayne Hesse of Tyler, Minn., gets more than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour produced by his two small turbines. He says distributed power could overcome the single greatest obstacle to wind power expansion: getting energy from windy areas to populated areas.


"If they're more spread out, of course, the infrastructure doesn't have to be built up so strong, and you don't need as many transmission lines," Hesse said.


But distributed generation has its own set of problems. New generation requires a thorough "interconnection" study. Setting up a single large wind farm is thus easier than setting up many small ones.


That might be curbing interest in South Dakota.


"We do get lots of calls, but it takes lots of diligence to develop a project like this," said Jeff Rud of East River Electric.


Yet those dedicated to the idea are forging ahead. Wipf says his inspiration comes from memories of the colony where he grew up, which had a grain mill that drew power from a stream.


Mike Knutson of Howard says his inspiration comes from the desire to find new ways for his rural town to survive. He is economic development coordinator for Miner County Community Revitalization, which helped build turbines in Howard, Canova and Carthage starting in 2001.


"I think that the turbines have become a major symbol for our future here in Howard, and that's a source of pride," Knutson said. "It symbolizes new technology being used, and old equipment."


 

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