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ELM SPRINGS -- Plans to build Arkansas' first wind farm have sparked interest and excitement in town and across the state, though some wind power experts cautioned against overselling the project.

Representatives of Dragonfly Industries International, a Texas wind energy company, told city officials last month they hope to build dozens of turbines on more than 300 acres of rural land about a mile west of Elm Springs at a cost of at least $100 million, according to City Council and Planning Commission minutes. Power could flow to tens of thousands of homes with the farm's expected capacity of 80 megawatts.

Web Watch

To learn more about Dragonfly Industries International, visit diiturbines.com

Top 10 states

One megawatt of power is enough to sustain hundreds of households, though the precise number depends on region, time of year and other factors. Arkansas is one of 11 states that doesn’t produce wind energy.

State Capacity (in MW)

Texas 12,976

California 5,832

Iowa 5,177

Illinois 3,568

Oregon 3,153

Oklahoma 3,134

Minnesota 3,035

Kansas 2,967

Washington 2,808

Colorado 2,332

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, as of September 2014

How wind power works

For thousands of years, windmills have harnessed the mechanical energy of wind to grind grains and do other work. Wind turbines work differently, instead transforming mechanical energy into electricity. They do this by taking advantage of a principle in physics called induction.

Moving a piece of conductive material, such a copper wire, around in a magnetic field in certain ways can induce, or cause, an electrical current to flow through that wire. In a wind turbine, the turning blades spin coils of wire in between strong magnets inside the turbine’s tower, creating an electric current that can flow out into the power grid.

Source: Staff report

Company leaders hope Elm Springs would annex the land if the project goes forward, bringing a tax boon to this town of fewer than 2,000 people, according to the minutes.

"This being what it is kind of put us on the map, so to speak," Mayor Harold Douthit said last week. "It could be a very positive effect and influence on our little town here."

Firm details are hard to come by for now. The company hasn't met with city officials since mid-December, and Cody Fell, a company spokesman, said Dragonfly's CEO and others were unavailable to comment. The company launched in Frisco, Texas, but plans to move to Northwest Arkansas in anticipation of the project, according to the City Council minutes.

"I do think that first presentation was well received by the council," Alderman Kevin Thornton said. "Everyone seemed to look forward to hearing more about the project. I think we're just in kind of a holding pattern."

Dragonfly plans to buy the land from Chambers Bank in Danville. It's valued at about $36,000, according to the Washington County Assessor's Office, though its asking price could be in the millions. Calls to the bank requesting comment Friday weren't returned.

Turning Point

Dragonfly's attempt would be the third since 2008 to bring a wind energy project into the state's northwest corner.

Correction

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of companies that have tried to bring wind energy projects to the area. The error has been corrected.

Kansas-based TradeWind Energy tried in 2008 to build 150 turbines in Searcy County, three counties east of Washington County, according to the Harrison Daily Times. The same year the company also considered a wind farm in Benton County. Both projects fell through -- Benton County's because of concerns over the environmental impact of construction, Searcy County's because not enough customers showed interest.

Bringing wind energy to Arkansas is a "risky" business, Frank Kelly, board chairman for the Arkansas Renewable Energy Association, said last week.

"I wouldn't advise anyone doing it," he said, adding solar power seemed like a better investment, unless a company wants to build turbines reaching the steadiest winds 450 feet up. Dragonfly's turbines would be 100 feet tall, according to the City Council minutes.

The country's best wind energy potential is in the Great Plains, between north Texas and North Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Wind there reaches an annual average of up to 18 mph at 240 feet up. Arkansas' windiest region is the northwest, with an average windspeed about 14 mph.

Despite the risk, Kelly said he'd be happy if wind power stuck this time around. Glen Hooks, director of the Sierra Club of Arkansas, was even more enthusiastic.

"Other than our hydropower plants, it'd be the first renewable energy of any kind," Hooks said, calling the plan "exciting." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging states to move away from coal power, which could edge out some coal plants and leave room for jobs and economic development on the renewable side, he said.

"This is the perfect example," Hooks said of the Dragonfly plan. He pointed to LM Wind Power, a Danish company that's one of the largest turbine-blade suppliers in the world and has a Little Rock factory and sales office. Construction of a wind farm needs "a lot of steel and a lot of jobs" in the area, Hooks said.

Arkansas' wind potential also is higher than earlier estimates showed thanks to better turbines, Hooks said. A 2014 report from the Energy Department and the Southeastern Wind Coalition found Arkansas could supply all of its energy use from wind alone with today's technology.

American wind power has grown continuously in the past decade, providing more than 4 percent of the nation's generated electricity in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than 15 million homes are powered by wind, the highest level ever and almost double the nation's wind capacity in 2009.

For now, Arkansas buys its wind energy from Kansas, Oklahoma and other states. Dragonfly's proposal comes as Clean Line Energy Partners is waiting for federal permission to build a 3,500-megawatt line from the Oklahoma panhandle to Tennessee and provide even more wind power to Arkansas and the rest of the South. The line would enter Arkansas in Crawford County, just south of Washington County.

If approved, construction of the $2 billion line could be finished by 2018, according to Clean Line.

A Better Turbine?

Mock-ups on Dragonfly's website show the company intends to use turbines that look something like jet engines, known in the industry as shrouded or ducted turbines. A cylindrical shell would extend forward and backward from the rotor. Units would be mounted in pairs on either side of each tower and could be lowered to the ground in high wind, according to the Elm Springs City Council minutes.

More conventional turbines have three blades extending outward from the center hub with no covering.

A handful of companies nationwide have tried to push for the new shrouded design in the past several years, according to reports in Fast Company, a business and technology magazine, and several other outlets. A Massachusetts company called FloDesign, since renamed Ogin, became one of the most prominent shrouded-turbine advocates with its launch in 2008.

Conventional turbines are made more powerful and efficient mostly by extending the blades farther and farther to 200 feet long or more. The shroud, advocates say, makes a better turbine by instead funneling the same amount of air into a rotor of a more manageable size. A fluid-like air moves faster when it's squeezed, so a funneled design should spin the rotor quicker and capture more of the air's energy for conversion into electricity.

"This is what Dragonfly does better than any another other shrouded design," Phillip Ridings, a former Dragonfly CEO, told renewable energy and technology blog Clean Techies in a 2010 interview. Ridings is still a company officer with Dragonfly, according to its website.

Beyond efficiency, Dragonfly claims its design is quieter, less likely to harm birds and more reliable.

"With patents pending, we look forward to the future of wind energy where bigger is not better, ecosystems are not adversely affected and we do not create an obstructing view of the sunset," the company wrote on its website.

Some research backs up claims of improvement. A 2013 study by Stanford University researchers found shrouded rotors could double the energy output of a conventional turbine, for example.

The shrouded design nonetheless has prompted skepticism from the industry. Critics say designers rely on pure math and controlled wind tunnels instead of real-world testing or exaggerate results to grab investors' attention.

"Some people make claims of high efficiency just based on the rotor area -- to me that's just misleading," said Jim Manwell, director of University of Massachusetts' Wind Energy Center. When shrouds are compared to other turbines of the same size, "they can be roughly comparable, probably," he said.

"I would have no objection to people looking at these; they're kind of intriguing, they're kind of fun," Manwell added. "Who knows? Maybe someone could work out the details. Certainly I haven't heard that anybody has."

Ogin, the Massachusetts company, last year won the chance to replace several dozen turbines in California with a different shrouded design, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The project will put the concept to one of its first major tests in the U.S.

"The diffuser definitely helps you for getting more power for a given rotor area," said Case van Dam, head of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis. Shrouded turbines' smaller size could also make them better for distributed power, or generating and delivering electricity from many smaller stations instead of from more distant, less efficient power plants, van Dam said.

"Really it's a trade-off" between shrouded and un-shrouded, he said. "I don't want to say one is per se better than the other."

Dan Holtmeyer can be reached at dholtmeyer@nwadg.com and on Twitter @NWADanH.

NW News on 02/01/2015

Print Headline: Elm Springs welcomes prospect of wind farm

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Comments

  • TuckerMax
    February 1, 2015 at 7:27 a.m.

    If it doesn't involve oil, coal, or nuclear energy, it's a communist plot. Like bicycle paths. I can't believe Rick Perry let them into Texas.

  • JimWiegand
    February 1, 2015 at 12:45 p.m.

    In a world not run by crooks, the assets of the financial backers behind these wind projects (after your tax dollars) would be frozen until this massive fraud is thoroughly investigated and liabilities have been established. The truth is that the wind industry we know today exists only because we live of a culture of non accountability. This industry has lobbied for and been given voluntary regulations. Specific regulations and requirements with accountability would easily kill this industry overnight because it is all a shell game being put over on the public.

    This ongoing fraud goes back decades when science was put in the dumpster by the wind industry. As a result many species have been put on a path to extinction from this industry's deadly turbines

  • JimWiegand
    February 1, 2015 at 12:50 p.m.

    Today the wind industry uses a multitude of tricks to rig "their" so called research. Readers can learn about these fraudulent ways in these articles.. Dead Eagles: Buffet/Berkshire/PacifiCorp Don't Want You to Know (Part 1 and 2) , "The voice of dead eagles", "Exposing the wind industry genocide" and Hiding" Avian Mortality": Where 'Green' is Red".

    The most scientific study ever produced by the wind industry was conducted 3 decades ago. From this study forward the wind industry has been clearly rigging their research and quoting false data.............."McCrary, M.D., R.L. McKernan, and R.W. Schreiber. 1986. San Gorgonio wind resource area: impacts of commercial wind turbine generators on birds, 1985 data report. Prepared for Southern California Edison Company. 33 pp".


    Using proper methodology for that time the McCrary study reported that the approximately 197 MW of wind turbines installed at the San Gorgonio wind resource area were killing an estimated 6800 birds per year. This was a fatality rate of approximately 34.4 fatalities per MW at San Gorgonio pass wind turbines.


    Keeping in mind those fatality rates and using them for all of the 61,000 MW of installed wind energy today in the US, produces a turbine mortality estimate of 2,098,400 birds a year. This is a number nearly 12 ten times more than the bogus 2.9 per MW quoted by the AWEA.


    But this 34.4 per MW estimate for America's turbines is low because bird use patterns at the Desert region of the San Gorgonio pass wind turbines is lower than many other wind turbine locations. Many other areas have far greater kills rate per MW.


    One example is a turbine located on the Lewes Campus in Delaware. Even though this study was rigged to conceal mortality, researchers still reported a kill rate of 41 birds and bats per MW.

    For this study the huge turbine blades hung out over the dinky search area and the studies missed most of the carcasses. The search area for carcasses should have been about 200 meters in all directions around this turbine. Instead the search area was about 20 times too small and the area searched was directed away from the primary direction of carcass throw.

    Researchers even witnessed blade strike fatalities that were launched way out beyond search areas, but it did not matter and these fatalities were not figured into the data. My estimates are that this one turbine was killing over 1200 birds and bats per year and the wind industry across North America is hiding over 90% of turbine related mortality with bogus studies like this one.


    Unfortunately and for obvious reasons, the McCrary study was stripped off the internet years ago. But if one looks, references to it can still be found.

  • FreeSpiritMan
    February 1, 2015 at 1:40 p.m.

    For a hundred miles beginning 50 miles east of Amarillo to 50 miles west is nothing but wind turbines, yet the right wing nuts in Texas are suppose to be against wind energy. Go figure.

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