The 30-Meter Difference: DOE Study Blows Away Limits on Midwest Wind Power

Boosting the height of wind turbines by 30 meters could massively boost the technical potential for cost-effective wind power in the Midwest, according to a new analysis released by the Department of Energy this week.

In some places like Iowa and Kansas, the wind blows pretty hard even at 80-meter above the ground. But in other places, like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri, boosting the height of wind turbines from 80 meters to 110 meters would have a big impact on how much land area in the state is viable for wind development.

  • Take Michigan, for example. DOE estimates that about 1778 square kilometers of the state can produce wind power cost-effectively with turbines at 80 meters in height. But if you boost those turbines to 110 meters, Michigan has more than 100,000 square km of land that can viably produce wind power -- a 56-fold increase;
  • In Illinois the amount of viable wind producing land area would triple with higher turbine heights;
  • In Missouri, taller turbines would unlock 11 times more land for cost-effective wind energy development than is currently viable;
  • In a seven-state Midwest footprint (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota), taller turbines could make 5.6 times more land viable for wind power development than would be viable with 80-ft tall turbines (see table below);
  • While across the contiguous U.S., this technological advancement could double the technical capacity for wind energy production.

As my colleague, Nathanael Greene, points out, "Using just 5 percent of the potential that DOE has identified, Michigan, for instance, could get 45 percent of its electricity from wind power. Sky-high numbers hold true in Wisconsin, too. There, using 110-meter turbine towers to develop all available resources would generate more than 1400 percent of current electric demand."

But, is it actually possible to build turbines tall enough to capture this new wind potential? Yes. In fact the average turbine installed in Germany today is even taller than 110 meters. Some even go as high as 140 meters.

Our statehouses and Governors hold the key to unlocking this potential. For example, legislatures in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are debating proposals that are all over the map on wind energy - some would strengthen standards to attract wind energy development while other proposals would eliminate standards and forego these benefits. Moreover, over the coming year or two, every Governor will be required to submit state plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan - the first ever power sector carbon emission limits which U.S. EPA will finalize this summer. By relying on wind power to meet these standards, states can benefit from economic development and job growth as well as lower power bills that come from reliance on wind energy.