Where the wind blows
October 15, 2014
Northwest Colorado is home to coal, oil, natural gas, and now, a solar garden. But what about wind power?
Although strong winds blow from time to time, wind resources in the western half of Colorado are generally poor according to a wind map from the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
"Strong winds aren't that good. What you really want are slow, steady winds," said Colorado Renewable Energy Society Executive Director Roger Alexander.
The main criteria for classifying wind power are wind speed and consistency, as well as air density. Measurements are typically taken between 50 and 80 meters above the ground, which is the height of most commercial wind turbines. The ability to connect the wind turbine with the grid is also a major consideration.
"Transmission, quality and availability of the resource are the most important things they consider when choosing a site," Alexander said.
A wind map of the United States reveals that most of the nation's prime wind resources are located in a large band running through the Midwest from North Dakota through Texas.
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But while Northwest Colorado may not be ideal for producing wind power, residents can still benefit from the addition of wind power on the eastern plains.
Yampa Valley Electric Association purchases power from Xcel Energy in order to supply energy to Northwest Colorado residents. Xcel's portfolio is on target to include 20 percent wind power in 2014 for a total of 2,668 megawatts, according to spokesperson Gabriel Romero. This percentage has doubled since 2010.
In Colorado, "Wind power is capable of meeting more than 24 times the state's current electricity needs," according to the American Wind Energy Association website. With the 13th best wind resource in the U.S., Colorado currently gets 13.8 percent of its electricity from wind and ranks fifth in the nation for number of wind-related jobs, according to the AWEA.
Benefits of wind power include zero carbon emissions and miniscule water usage, which the AWEA estimates saves more than 1.6 billion gallons of water per year in Colorado and avoids over 6.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This would be the equivalent of removing 1,098,000 cars from the road.
And Alexander said that as wind turbine technology improves, the cost of wind energy is going down.
"Wind is one of the lowest cost sources of generation," Alexander said.
As electric utilities and cooperatives work to meet the Colorado Renewable Portfolio Standard of 30 percent and 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 (respectively), wind power's presence in the energy blend will only continue to grow.