Visitors center planned for Missouri wind farm
Mike Waltemath had just finished planting corn when he noticed a car pull up at the edge of the field. An elderly couple and their son got out and began walking up the gravel road that dissects the field. Waltemath knew why they were there, but thought he better ask just to be sure.
Just as he thought--they had come to see the wind towers that dot the landscape north of King City, Mo., home to the first wind farm in the state of Missouri.
"This family had driven from Wentzville, Mo., over 600 miles round trip to see these wind generators," Waltemath said.
Since the Bluegrass Ridge Wind Farm began operation, almost two years ago, people have come in cars and by the busload to see these giant windmills up close. The wind farm gets its name from the fact that King City, Mo., was once the bluegrass capital of the world. Named not for its taste in music but for the amount of bluegrass seed produced in the area.
The bluegrass is gone; but the wind farm has brought a new notoriety to King City and Gentry County, in general. Waltemath is vice-president of a local group that has applied for a grant to build the Tri-County Alternative Energy and Education Center. This will serve as a visitors center to handle the influx of people coming to see the wind farm.
The Suzlon Company, that builds wind generators, donated two blades that now sit at the entrance for the proposed visitors center in King City. A crane company donated the equipment and labor to move the blades, which was no small task. The blades are 140 feet long and weigh around 15 tons each.
"We are just a bunch of country boys and we thought we could move those blades ourselves," Waltemath said. "We would have, too, but it might not have been legal."
Waltemath said they hope to find out about the grant sometime this summer. Busloads of senior citizens and school children from Kansas City and the surrounding area have already made trips to King City. Waltemath said King City is a small town with only two restaurants.
"We are not set up to handle 200 people for lunch," Waltemath said.
Eight of the 27 Suzlon S-88 wind turbines on the wind farm are on land owned by Mike Waltemath, his brother and his sister. In fact, Wind Capital Group, which built the wind farm, asked Waltemath to talk with area farmers to see who might be interested in having a wind generator on their property. Waltemath said the majority of landowners were interested in the wind farm project and wanted to be involved. Most of those who did not want a tower on their property were not against wind energy; they just did not want to be part of the project for one reason or another.
The whole process went much faster than they imagined it would. It was only about a year and a half from the time they first started talking about it until the towers were up and running.
Waltemath grows corn and soybeans and runs a 120-head cowherd on his farm. The wind generators have not been a problem for him.
"There are a few more point rows in some places but, at harvest, it is nice to have those roads so a truck can get in there to get the corn out, rather than transport it with a combine for a half mile when the fields are wet," Waltemath said.
The cattle don't seem to pay any attention to the towers unless the weather is hot. Waltemath has noticed that when cattle are in a pasture with a tower, the cattle will stand in the shadow to cool off.
Some people were worried about the noise the large blades would make, but Waltemath said that is not a problem.
"It is not perfect but, for no more ground than these things take up, I think it is beneficial," Waltemath said. He said originally he noticed the whoosh-whoosh sound of the blades but he is used to it now. For him, it is not as bad as the sirens, honking, and traffic noise he hears in Kansas City or St. Louis.
"You can stand right at the base of the tower and talk in a normal voice," Waltemath said.
Bird flight patterns were taken into consideration when the wind farm was built. Waltemath said he has not seen any dead birds near the towers on his farm.
When the sites for the wind towers were laid out, the landowners were asked if those locations would work for them. Waltemath asked them to move one on his property a little closer to the fenceline and they complied with his request.
The obvious benefit is the 56.7 megawatts (MW) of power generated by these wind turbines, which is enough electricity for 20,000 average-size homes. There are other benefits for Gentry County, which has seen its population drop from 20,000 residents in 1900 to less than 6,000 in 2009. County Treasurer Linda Combs said the wind farm brought in $585,922 in additional tax dollars. The King City school district received $355,627 of that amount. Roads and bridges were improved so that the heavy equipment needed to install the towers could get in place. There are 11 full-time employees to maintain the wind generators.
And there is the lease money paid to individual landowners. On the average, landowners receive $3,000 a year for each tower on their property. The lease payment is made on a flat rate, not on how much power is generated.
In addition to the Bluegrass Wind Farm, Wind Capital Group built the Conception 50 megawatt (MW) wind farm in Nodaway County, the Cow Branch Wind Farm in Atchison County with 24 Suzlon S-88 generators for a total capacity of 50 MW, and the Loess Hills Wind Farm in Rock Port, Mo., which has five Suzlon S-64 generators. The electricity from all these projects is sold to the Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Wind Capital Group hopes to break ground July 13 on a new wind farm south of King City in DeKalb County called the Lost Creek Wind Farm. This wind farm will have 100 General Electric 1.5 MW turbines and produce 150 MW of electricity. This is enough to provide power for 50,000 homes.
Work on this wind farm began a month earlier than expected because they were able to take delivery on the wind turbines earlier than anticipated. Wind Capital Group projects that the $300 million energy project will be completed by late spring 2010.
Waltemath told the family visiting the towers on his farm, last fall, that there was a charge. He said the admission price was to go home and tell all their friends to come up for a visit.
"We are proud of these wind generators and we want everyone to come see them," Waltemath said.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by e-mail at email@example.com.