When I meet people and tell them what I do at Xcel Energy (environmental communications manager), they often get excited and volunteer that they have seen the wind farm off state Highway 93, outside of Golden, Colo. And being a know-it-all, I’m quick to correct them that it’s not really a wind farm, but the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC). It’s merely a testing facility operated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with a handful of turbines – nothing like the large, commercial wind farms located on Colorado’s eastern plains that have dozens of turbines. Those farms are really impressive.
But recently I learned that I need to get my facts straight about the NWTC. While it technically is a testing facility, it does generate power. In fact, we actually buy power from the NWTC to serve our customers — about 9.3 megawatts of the 1,268 megawatts of wind power on our Colorado system.
As a testing facility, the NWTC does not generate a large amount of power, and at times, isn’t as predictable as traditional commercial wind farms. For example, a turbine may be taken out of service for several weeks to prepare for testing. In addition, wind at the site is rated as a “class 2” resource, which means it is marginal for producing year-round wind energy.
However, during the winter and spring, strong westerly winds are funneled directly onto the site, making it ideal for testing turbines. And some of the testing turbines are quite large, with a capacity of more than two megawatts, enough to run about 1,000 homes annually.
It’s true NREL is an essential partner for the technical development and large-scale deployment of wind power. And yes, they have an impressive staff of researchers working to improve wind power production, reduce capital and operating and maintenance costs, improve reliability and eliminate barriers to large-scale deployment. But above all, it’s nice to know that wind energy produced for research purposes isn’t just used for research – no electrons wasted here.
Interested in taking a closer look at the NWTC? You can take an online tour of the facility and learn a little more. And if you’ve never taken time to visit a wind farm – large or small – it’s worth a visit.
Article by Pam Butler, appearing courtesy Xcel Energy Blog.