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History of Wind



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The power in wind is obvious to everyone living in North Dakota. It seems to perpetually buffet us and fill the air with snow and dirt.

Using the wind is not a new idea. For hundreds of years, man has mechanically harnessed the wind's energy. The famous Dutch windmills have faithfully pumped water for hundreds of years, keeping land reclaimed from the Zuyder Zee dry. More recently, here in America, millions of water-pumping windmills provided reliable water supplies for livestock belonging to settlers on the Western Plains.

Use of water pumping windmill continues today in remote livestock areas. Mechanical energy, though, must be used on-site and applications are limited.

Early in the last century, many rural residents found additional uses for wind energy: they began to use wind machines to generate electricity. Because there was no reliable rural power prior to the development of the rural Electrification Administration in 1935, some rural residents used small wind-driven generators to produce direct current (DC) electricity for lighting and light electrical loads. These early wind electricity systems used batteries for electrical storage during periods of little or no wind.

Systems like this had severe limitations. Most importantly, the battery storage was limited. Frequent charging was necessary to avoid a loss of power. Some systems had gasoline generators to provide backup power if the batteries became run down. One North Dakotan recalls that as child he was always aware of whether his father was enjoying evening visitors. If his father was, he'd fire up the generator, and cards would come out. If not, the visitors would usually get the hint before the home got too dark.

The battery limitations, though, meant devices requiring large amounts of power still could not be operated.

These limitations made REA power preferable when local cooperatives formed. Today local rural electric cooperatives (RECs) have made reliable electric power available to nearly every rural household.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in wind power generation, as the technology has been refined and costs have dramatically decreased. Today's wind turbines are much more reliable and produce electricity at costs lower than other power sources. Turbines being installed today routinely have rated capacities of 750 kW to 1MW and higher. In addition, the environmental benefits of wind generated electricity are increasingly recognized by those who favor "green" sources of power. There are no harmful emissions or combustion by-products as a result of wind generation.

North Dakota has been identified as having the 6th greatest wind resource in the country by the Department of Energy. The state also has few environmental restraints regarding land availability. The development of large-scale wind generation in North Dakota contributes significantly to economic development efforts by creating new industry and new jobs. Landowners also benefit through leasing of wind rights and property for development.

There are, however, a number of issues that need to be addressed prior to significant wind energy development in North Dakota . The single biggest obstacle is constraints on the state's existing transmission grid. North Dakota currently exports nearly 60 percent of the power generated within the state, and it is likely that most wind generated electricity will also be exported. Utility experts agree that additions to the current transmission grid will be necessary for any significant generation expansion in the state, regardless of the fuel source.

There are also issues related to identification of the market for wind energy, tax laws that make it difficult to compete with neighboring states, and possible avian issues related to raptors and nesting waterfowl.

With proper attention to these issues, and a willingness to embrace this exciting opportunity for development of a plentiful energy resource, North Dakota will likely see substantial growth of the wind energy industry in the coming years.
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