Rock Port will become America’s first 100-percent wind powered community when city officials throw the switch bringing the Loess Hills Wind Farm on line next Friday.
When fully operational, the four Suzlon S-64 wind turbines will have the capacity to generate a combined total of five megawatts of energy, 16 million kilowatt hours a year.
Historically, Rock Port electrical customers use approximately 13 million KwH annually.
The celebration commemorating the symbolic "throwing of the switch" is scheduled to begin when the exhibit hall opens at 9 a.m. that Friday at the Atchison County Memorial Building in downtown Rock Port. The formal switching ceremony is slated for 11:30 a.m. and lunch will be served from 12:15 to 2 p.m. The program is sponsored by the Atchison County Development Corporation.
Rock Port Mayor Helen Jo Stevens will serve as master of ceremonies for the program and U. S. Rep. Sam Graves will be the featured speaker. Representatives of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Joint Municipal Utilities, the Association of Electric Cooperatives and the project’s principal developers, Wind Capital Group and John Deere Capital’s Wind Energy will join the Tarkio Republican on the dais.
The idea for the Loess Hills Wind Farm was conceived by Eric Chamberlain, Rock Port, before construction began on the larger Cow Branch Wind Farm, the 24-turbine development located between Rock Port and Tarkio. Chamberlain had been researching the possibility of municipal wind energy and evaluating local wind resources and the cooperative effort seemed reasonable. He took his idea for the smaller municipal system to Tom Carnahan, founder of Wind Capital Group and developer of Northwest Missouri’s first wind farm near King City, and the concept ultimately has become reality.
"We would not have the Loess Hills Wind Farm to provide power for Rock Port without the development of the Cow Branch project," Chamberlain said during a recent tour of the two wind farm sites. "It would have simply been cost prohibitive for Rock Port to attempt what we have here."
The construction costs have run to "several millions of dollars," he said. That is where John Deere Credit U.S.A. became involved as the principal financier of both Atchison County wind farm projects. "They can recover their investment through the sale of electricity" into the area’s power grid, Chamberlain explained. Some of JDC’s investment will also be recovered through federal per-kilowatt tax credits allowable to wind energy developers. All area wind farms — a third, comparable in size to the Cow Branch and Bluegrass projects, is nearing completion at Conception Junction — will be eligible for that credit, although the program is scheduled to expire at the end of this year and has not yet been renewed by Congress.
The Rock Port municipal electrical system will be connected directly to the Loess Hills Wind Farm and a double metering system will enable the city to calculate what power is sold directly to municipal customers and how much is funneled into the system shared by the area’s electric cooperatives.
"That in itself will save Rock Port transmission fees and a line loss charge of something like seven percent," Chamberlain said, "so it will reduce the city’s wholesale utility cost.
"It may not actually lower the utility bills people have to pay, but it will at least be a hedge against inflation that is almost a certainty in utility costs."
The four towers comprising the Loess Hills Wind Farm are 250 feet tall each, the same height as those at the larger Cow Branch project. The Loess Hills turbines utilize three 90-foot blades to capture wind energy from an area that is about an acre in size. Those at Cow Branch have 140-foot blades and can each generate 2.1 MW of power. That combined output will provide enough output to provide clean, renewable energy for 30,000 homes.
The Loess Hills turbines require a wind speed of nine miles per hour to begin power production and the maximum power output is achieved at 14 mph.