Power potential blowin’ in the wind | VailDaily.com

Power potential blowin’ in the wind

Bob Berwyn
summit daily news
Breckenridge, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxMembers of the Colorado State University mechanical engineering post graduate program work at raising a 100-foot anemometer tower south of the new Colorado Mountain College campus. The tower, which will be in place for a year, will measure and read wind speed and direction and show where wind conditions are viable to generating electricity. Seasonal results will be measured and will help determine if the valley is right for a wind turbine.

A wind-speed gauge going up near the new Colorado Mountain College campus in Breckenridge will help determine whether the school could meet some of its power demand with wind-generated electricity.

“We dreamers are saying if CMC works, then the high school should work, and maybe the rec center, too,” said longtime renewable-energy advocate Don Sather.

The anemometer perched atop a 100-foot tower will measure wind speed and duration for a year. Based on the data, energy experts could then decide that the site is suitable for a small wind-power system that could supply locally generated renewable electricity.

“We’re hopeful this is a quality site,” said Sather, explaining that a local group, Renewable Energies in the Summit, is leveraging some state funding to explore potential wind-energy sites.

Another anemometer has been in place near the county landfill for six months, said alternative-energy expert Eric Westerhoff. That location also shows potential for generating electricity and might be a better site, given the limited public access.

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Westerhoff, who has been designing and installing renewable-energy systems in the area for many years, said there are some challenges associated with putting up wind turbines, including their height.

“You want to go up about 100 feet to get out of the turbulence,” he said.

But current building codes generally limit structures to about 35 feet.

“We know Airport Road has good wind. You can generate a lot of power there,” he said.

But putting such a high structure in the narrow valley could present some problems, for example with local ballooners who launch their lighter-than-air craft nearby.

Westerhoff said sites like the landfill or on rural ranches in the Lower Blue might be more suitable.

County officials are aware of some of the renewable energy pitfalls, said Lindsay Hirsh, manager of current planning.

If the county commissioners deem it a priority, the planning department may review development standards relating to of solar and windpower installations sometime this year, he said.

“The door is open,” Hirsh said, explaining that staffers are already looking at other jurisdictions to learn how the issue has been addressed elsewhere.

The key is finding a balance between permitting desired applications of renewable energy and making sure the facilities don’t unduly impact neighbors.

Any code changes could even result in offering some incentives for renewable energy installations, he said.

Another challenge is that the air is thinner at high elevations like Summit County, requiring greater sustained wind speeds to generate power economically.

“If you talk to wind prospectors and wind farmers, they’ll tell you it’s a class below other locations because the air is less dense,” Westerhoff said.

Extreme weather conditions also play a role. Cold temperatures suggest the use of arctic-rated turbines.

Those are more expensive, so it takes longer to pay back the initial investment, he said.

Still, the idea of using locally generated electricity is appealing because it takes pressure off the national and regional distribution grid.

Westerhoff said that, for that reason, “distributed generation” is a buzzword in the energy industry. Being able to generate power on-site and even feed it back into the grid at peak times helps at least delay the need for new distribution facilities, he explained.

The cost of installing a wind turbine varies with the exact specifications. Westerhoff said he recently installed a 10-kilowatt system for about $75,000. But the better question is, how long does it take to pay back the investment?

Installing the anemometers at CMC and the landfill is the first step toward getting the answer, he said.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at berwyn@summitdaily.com.

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