By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — Empire District Electric Co. hopes to have access to a second wind-energy farm and attain its goals for wind-energy output by the end of this year, an official said Thursday.
The Meridian Way Wind Farm near Concordia, Kan., should be finished and selling power to the Joplin utility by December, said Blake Mertens, Empire’s manager of strategic projects. Crews are expected to break ground on the project sometime next month.
Once the second farm is online, wind energy should account for between 15 percent and 20 percent of Empire’s total annual production, Mertens told those attending a quarterly luncheon of the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce.
That percentage likely is the maximum that Empire will be able to attain for its total electrical production, but it still should elevate Empire to one of the industry’s “leading utilities” when it comes to wind energy’s share of total production, he said.
As of August 2007, wind energy accounted for about 8.3 percent of Empire’s total production, he said.
By comparison, wind energy represents just 0.8 percent of total electricity production in the United States, according to Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies in the United States.
Riedinger did note that wind power is the fastest growing source of electricity generation.
Although coal remains the predominant source of generation, Mertens said the industry as a whole is embracing wind power for both environmental and economic reasons.
“Wind is not the only solution, but it is part of the solution,” he said of addressing the nation’s growing power needs.
From an environmental perspective, wind power allows electric companies to rely less on coal and curb the emissions from coal burning, he said.
Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, a national trade association representing the wind-power industry, said wind affords utilities a more stable energy source that can help spare them from fluctuations in fuel prices. It is also a constant, available energy source.
“It is a secure supply because the wind is always there, and it’s free,” she said.
Mertens said he could not disclose the cost of purchasing wind-generated power against the cost of power from coal burning, citing Empire’s confidentiality agreements with the companies.
In June 2007, Empire announced that it had signed a 20-year agreement with Horizon Wind Energy, of Houston, Texas, to purchase energy from the Meridian Way Wind Farm. The company plans to purchase about 350,000 megawatt-hours of energy annually from the project — enough to meet the annual electricity needs of about 25,000 homes.
That compact marked the second that Empire has reached for wind energy.
In late 2005, Empire began purchasing energy from the Elk River Wind Farm near Beaumont, Kan. The company annually purchases about 525,000 megawatt-hours from Elk River — enough to satisfy the annual power needs of about 42,000 homes.
By the numbers
Each of the wind turbines from which Empire now purchases power is 262 feet tall to its hub, and each rotor has a diameter of about 250 feet.
By Derek Spellman
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