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Friday, October 16, 2009

Comparison: Wind Power Potential, Rock Port MO vs. Madison SD

I just got a really good reply from Mayor Hexom on the potential for Madison to replicate the success of Rock Port, Missouri, in obtaining more than 100% of its electricity needs from wind power. I had noted previously that Mayor Hexom had said wind power could cost the city 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. I found this amount surprising, especially considering that John Deere's turbines in Rock Port generate juice for 5.5 cents/kWh (and Uncle Sam knocks 2 cents off that with a subsidy). Mayor Hexom explains that his 20 cents/kWh figure assumes smaller wind units, like those in Howard and Pipestone, not the big megawatt-plus beasties going up in the new wind farms. Economies of scale also help: as noted previously, Rock Port's four turbines were made all the more feasible by the fact that Wind Capital Group was already putting up a bigger wind farm in the neighborhood. Adding the Rock Port bump to the project cut costs significantly over building four turbines independently.

Mayor Hexom also pointed out that a look at the wind potential map will show Madison isn't in as good a wind generation area as places like Wessington Springs, where Heartland is involved with that big wind farm on the ridge.

Look at the map... they have maps for that?

Of course they do!

First, let's look at the U.S. Department of Energy's wind resource map for Missouri (click image to enlarge):

U.S. Department of Energy wind resource map of Missouri
Zoom in on the northwest corner of that picture. I've marked the rough location Rock Port. America's first 100% wind-powered town sits in a mostly tan region—tan meaning Class 2, "marginal." There is a smattering of orange—Class 3, "fair"—in the neighborhood. Compared to the rest of Missouri, Rock Port is as good as it gets for wind potential.

Now, compare that to the wind resource map for South Dakota (click image to enlarge):

U.S. Department of Energy wind resource map of South Dakota
Holy crap! No wonder Missouri folks fall over when they come visit us. Look at all that wind!

Our fair city of Madison sits in the midst of Class 3 and Class 4 ("good"!) terrain. We're pikers compared to the Coteau des Prairies and most of the state west of the Jim River Valley, but we still stand tall—slantwise—compared to Rock Port and 80% of America.

So note, Madison wind power boosters: With Class 2, maybe Class 3 wind, Rock Port is able to get more power than it needs from four 1.25-megawatt turbines. With our Class 3, maybe Class 4 wind, we could line Highway 34 with the same turbines and probably get even more usable juice.

Madison's "problem" isn't that we don't have good wind; it's that wind farm developers can get even better wind just 80 miles away in a couple directions.

But if we're interested in local power generation (and dare I say it: self-sufficiency?), these maps support the idea that if Rock Port, Missouri can do it, so can Madison, South Dakota.

p.s.: Did you hear the one about the boy in Malawi who built a working wind turbine from junk and pictures from a book in the library? No joke: William Kamkwamba. Totally inspirational. Kamkwamba is Africa's Dick Wiedenman... using his junk powers for good!


  1. PUC Member, Dusty Johnson, explains in today's Argus Leader how common South Dakotans can take advantage of new rules that allow individuals to create electricity and sell back portions of 10 megawatts or less.

    The Small Renewable Energy Initiative will provide tax incentives and allow electric consumers to become producers and hook into the grid to sell their excess power.

    This is very forward thinking from our PUC that creates small pockets of competition and additional sources of electricity for our cooperatives and municipalities. Hopefully, it gives our state options for keeping electricity rates reasonable.

    If we're able to create a successful cooperative of local producers who produce ethanol in our county, why not a group of producers/investors who create small wind farms of 10 megawatts and sell back the power?

  2. Rod, that may be one of the best ideas you've ever posted here. I don't have any investment capital... but sign me up as your recruiter! I'll put together the sales pitch and help conduct the investor meetings. Local wind power co-ops: run some numbers, and let's do it!


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