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Wind energy conference touts opportunities for agriculture


Texas farmers and ranchers likely will see more opportunities come about in the future when it comes to wind energy, according to a Texas A&M System expert.

Dr. Vaughn Nelson, professor emeritus and director of the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M University, predicts small wind systems, those that produce one kilowatt up to 100 kilowatts or more, will receive more interest in the future when it comes to generating power for the farm and ranch, as well as tapping into potential power markets.

"My personal opinion is we may see in the future a farmer or rancher go to a banker some day and say they want to finance a wind turbine just like they would a farm implement," Nelson said. "They would pay that off in five to seven years, (then be in a profitable situation.)"

Nelson was a panel speaker recently at the Texas/European Union Wind Energy Symposium sponsored by the European Union Center at Texas A&M University in College Station. Co-sponsors included Texas AgriLife Research.

For agriculture, the most recent interest has come from wind-farm generation. Many agricultural producers in the Panhandle region have seen lucrative opportunities to take part in this renewable energy, Nelson said.

"There has been rapid expansion of wind farms in Texas with 7,900 megawatts installed from 2005 through 2009," Nelson said.

However, power demand and institutional costs among power companies have prevented rapid expansion, Nelson said.

Like the overall economy, the wind-energy market has seen slowed growth, but it is gaining momentum with new projects each year, said Susan Williams Sloan, strategic partnerships manager with the American Wind Energy Association.

"Since 2005, wind and natural gas has made up 90 percent of installments in the U.S.," she told attendees.

In Texas, almost 9,000 megawatts in wind capacity has been met. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 20 percent of the nation's electricity could come from wind.

From an industry supply perspective, this sector has also slowed, Williams said. "Turbine orders were delayed as a result of the credit crisis," Sloan said. "Now, orders are being placed 12 months to 18 months out."

Globally, small wind systems are even powering the telecom sector. In his presentation, Nelson demonstrated how a 1-kilowatt small wind unit was powering cell phone use in China. In the United States, urban small wind systems are in daily use, but they are "very expensive" to establish, with costs of $8,000 or more for one particular project, he said.

Meanwhile, research activities continue, particularly within the Texas A&M System, said Mark Ellison, associate vice chancellor for economic development.

"At West Texas A&M, numerous companies are coming there to test and prototype," he said. "We're excited about that asset and the wind mapping done at West Texas A&M."

For more information about current projects and research programs at West Texas A&M, visit www.windenergy.org/.

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