By David Alexander
In the early 1800s Kalamazoo was known as “The Windmill City.”
Professor of engineering John Patten is trying to bring that moniker back. His lecture entitled “Wind Energy Potential in Michigan” focused on the benefits of wind energy for Michigan on Oct. 22 in Western Michigan University’s new chemistry building.
Patten, who constructed a $10,000 wind turbine on WMU’s engineering campus, began with a disclaimer that his presentation didn’t have anything to do with his specialty.
Michigan has a good wind resource, infrastructure, and manufacturing landscape, making it a prime spot for the development and utilization of wind turbine energy, Patten said.
“Why wind energy?” Patten asked. “It gives off no sulfur dioxide, no nitrous dioxide, no carbon dioxide that we talk a lot about today in terms of greenhouse gases.”
Currently, the US ranks second to Germany for worldwide wind energy output, putting out over 12 gigawatts in 2007 for just under one percent of the United States’ total energy output. The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal to increase the United States’ wind energy output to 20 percent by 2030.
“Recently Michigan state legislators passed a Renewable Portfolio Standard which requires utilities to get a certain percentage of energy from renewable resources,” Patten said.
With the construction of a roughly $90 million Harvest Wind Farm, Michigan ranks second in the U.S. for, wind energy output, behind only Texas. Most of the wind energy is concentrated on the coastlines, Patten said.
According to the 2006 “Renewable Energy: Tax Credit, Budget and Electricity Production Issues,” Michigan ranks fourth in manufacturing potential when it comes to wind turbine power. This could produce 8,000 to 24,000 permanent jobs.
“If you want to go mining for gold you go where the gold is. In this case, if you want to put up a wind farm you go where the wind is,” Patten said.
One of the problems with alternative energy sources like wind power and bio-diesel is that they are expensive to individual citizens, despite benefiting everyone.
“We as individuals incur cost, but everybody benefits … how do we reimburse the individual?” Patten said.
There have been concerns of noise and avian impact. Patten said that windmills generate no more noise than the average conversation and kill fewer birds than cats and skyscrapers, less than one for every 10,000 killed by humans.
Since 1980, the cost of wind energy has decreased incrementally. This is due in large to the continued improvement of technology, Patten said.
Wind turbines generate more energy the larger they are, but all sizes require the same amount of wind to power them. Patten said that a large turbine typically utilizes up to 60 percent of the energy produced by the wind. The one he has built usually nets around 30 percent, he said.
Patten believes that the government should be responsible for making wind turbine energy more feasible, because they are the best informed.
The U.S. energy output is continuing to grow. In 2006, the U.S. increased its wind energy output by a greater margin than Germany, due largely in part to Germany’s lack of viable space to build.
“You always go after the low hanging fruit,” Patten said, referring to utilizing space in regards to building wind turbines.
When asked about concerns that wind energy goes against the status quo, Patten said that while wind energy can be expensive and nonconventional, in the long run it is better economically.
“If you do nothing you’re in serious trouble,” he said.
A question and answer session followed the lecture where the 45 in attendance could pose queries about wind energy.
“It’s interesting,” said Liz Solan a freshman majoring in biology at Kalamazoo College. “I like wind power. I am really interested in off-shore wind turbines.”
If current trends continue and Professor Patten gets his way, Kalamazoo could once again be “The Windmill City.”