NO MATTER WHICH side of the aisle you prefer, it’s difficult to escape the trumpeting of the coming “Green Economy” that will both fuel prosperity and save the earth. In tiny Rock Port, Missouri -- a one-stoplight town of corn and soybean farmers -- that sustainable future is now.
RockPort, population 1,300, became the nation’s first energy-independent municipality this summer when it turned on four windmills to runturbines that will generate more than enough electricity to power the entire town -- without pollution or energy price spikes.
Normally a community this small could never swing such a project: The taxpayers could not afford the nearly $10 million price tag it came with, norcould they provide a large-enough market to attract corporate investment. But Rock Port benefited from a confluence of factors: anorthwest location in the windiest part of the Show-Me state, a local businessman by the name of Eric Chamberlain who was enthusiastic about wind power, and the interest of two companies -- John Deere Wind Energyof Johnston, Iowa, and Wind Capital Group of St. Louis -- building a larger 50-megawatt wind farm nearby, thus cutting the labor and equipment costs for building Rock Port’s smaller five-megawatt facility.
Hereare just a few of the reasons that the folks on this county seat’s MainStreet have welcomed the 250-foot towers of Loess Hills Wind Farm. -- Heather Millar
Even a light breeze will make electricity.The wind only has to reach nine miles per hour to turn the windmills’90-foot blades. The turbines reach maximum output with 26 mph gusts.
It’s beyond merely eating local, it’s powering local.“The coolest thing for me is seeing the end result of the wind farm,”says Chamberlain, the farm’s first local booster and now a project manager for Wind Capital Group. “You go down to the grocery store, or[stop at] the stop light, and you can see the power being used. In mostplaces, you can’t see the direct connection. Here, it seems so simple.”
Using power generated at home means lower bills.When utilities transmit electricity long distances over power lines, some energy always gets lost. Most utilities charge for that powerdrain, usually a surcharge in the range of five to seven percent. But the power produced in Rock Port will not drain away because its userslive so close. For now, the savings from not paying a loss surcharge will go mostly to the city-owned utility. After the windmills have beenturning for a year, the town will decide whether the windfall is large enough to pass along to ratepayers.
The wind produces more power than the town needs.The four wind turbines will produce up to 16 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, but Rock Port only uses 13 million kilowatthours. The extra wattage will flow into the Missouri Joint MunicipalElectric Utility Commission, which will power Rock Port if the windmills aren’t turning at capacity. John Deere will reap the profitsfrom the energy the town doesn’t use.
The wind farm has increased environmental awareness. The local light utility just revamped itself to be more efficient. And an ethanol plant is going up a few towns away.