2007 Wind Cooperative of the Year Award Interview: Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.
March 16, 2007
Contact: Nancy Southworth, Associated Electric Cooperative
DOE's Wind Powering America, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the Cooperative Research Network presented Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI) with the Wind Cooperative of the Year 2007 Award at NRECA's TechAdvantage 2007 Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Q. Tell us a little about the Associated Electric Cooperative.
A. AECI is owned by and provides wholesale power to six regional and 51 local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, northeast Oklahoma, and southeast Iowa that serve more than 850,000 customers. AECI will purchase power from three wind farms—the first utility-scale farms in Missouri—and distribute it through its network of regional and local rural electric cooperatives. Announced in 2006, the three 50-megawatt (MW) wind facilities are being developed and built in northwest Missouri by the developer, Wind Capital Group, and John Deere Wind Energy. AECI signed a 20-year agreement to purchase from each wind farm.
The first wind farm, Bluegrass Ridge, is located near King City, Missouri, in Gentry County. Wind turbine blades began turning there in January 2007. The second farm, Cow Branch Wind Energy Project, will be located near Tarkio, Missouri, in Atchison County, and the third farm will be located near Conception, Missouri, in Nodaway County. We expect the two additional wind farms to be completed by the end of 2007.
Each wind energy project includes 24 Suzlon S-88, 2.1-MW turbines, which are among the largest and most powerful in America. Bluegrass Ridge has an additional three turbines, which were recently added. The turbines rise nearly 260 feet above the ground and have three 140-foot-long blades with a rotor diameter of 289 feet, nearly the length of a football field. Combined, the three wind farms will be capable of producing 157 MW. That's enough power for about 45,000 homes. Energy from the three wind farms will help power the city of Columbia.
Q. How did AECI become involved with renewables and wind in particular?
A. Our first experience with renewable energy was when a big walnut processor in Missouri asked if we would be interested in burning walnut shells salvaged from a severe tornado in Missouri. We burned walnut shells in a small power plant that produced a lot of biomass. After that, Tom Carnahan, President of Wind Capital Group, approached us about buying wind power. Tom was interested in wind farms in Missouri because he had looked at the Missouri wind maps and saw the potential. He also noticed that northwest Missouri, the windiest part of the state, was already being served by one of our members. He wanted to be where we already were. Wind power doesn't do any good if the power it produces can't enter the nation's energy grid. We were already there. But a connection to the transmission grid isn't enough. Someone has to buy the power. That's where AECI comes in.
Q. What needs to happen to engage more rural electric co-ops to support wind energy?
A. A wind farm developer can be very beneficial. The three wind farms we buy power from were made possible by John Deere Wind Energy, a financial division of the equipment giant, and the Wind Capital Group, the developer. Both of these companies have an interest in rural areas and in rural development. Both are familiar with the rural marketplace. Tom Carnahan, president of the Wind Capital Group, grew up in rural Missouri. He is the son of the late Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan and U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan. John Deere has been working with farmers and ranchers in rural areas for years.
It also takes the right kind of wind, transmission capabilities, and a program that landowners feel comfortable with. Our developer did well because he stresses community involvement and partnering with farmers so they benefit from a new cash crop and the diversified income provided by wind energy production.
Q. What are your plans for the future regarding renewables and wind?
A. We're still keeping an open mind that wind can contribute to the energy mix. The wind farms are part of a three-pronged approach that includes a new gas plant and a proposed coal plant in north-central Missouri. Adding wind turbines to the coal, natural gas, oil, hydropower, and biomass generating resources we already use will help us improve our ability to fulfill our mission of providing reliable, low-cost electricity to rural electric cooperative members. But our mission is to provide our members with the best power at the best price, not just green power.
Q. How have your customers responded?
A. Our customers are very interested in these wind farms. Being part of the first wind farms in the state has been a lot of fun. People are excited about it.