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Knowing Wind Farms' Limits Can Help Prevent Utility Disruptions

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More than 40% of Iowa's power comes from wind energy. (shaiith/Adobe Stock)
More than 40% of Iowa's power comes from wind energy. (shaiith/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - IA - Producer, Contact
March 19, 2021

DES MOINES, Iowa - As scientists warn that the increase in extreme weather events shows no signs of stopping, experts say it's important as ever to prepare renewable sources for the conditions.

Iowa gets more than 40% of its power from wind energy, and for the most part, wind turbines can be weatherized to operate in winter weather conditions.

Tad Miller, regional director of field operations for energy company EDF Renewables, said cold-weather packages for wind turbines can range from using thinner oil - like you would do for your car in a cold climate - to putting heaters in the gearboxes or even on the blades.

"Every manufacturer has additions or changes they can make to adapt it to their environment that will make it more more reliable there and higher performance," said Miller.

There are limits, and some of Iowa's wind turbines were shut down during the 2019 polar vortex, when the Hawkeye State saw record-breaking cold temperatures, reaching negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Miller said manufacturers and operators are always trying to find new ways to make improvements.

Natalie McIntire, a technical consultant with the Clean Grid Alliance, said since the polar-vortex event, Iowa's regional transmission operator has been working to incorporate data about what the wind turbines and other power sources' capabilities are - so that weather forecasting can help them plan ahead for managing power during future extreme weather events.

"They will know in advance," said McIntire, "'oh, we're going to need to make sure that we have other resources available, because we can see that the temperatures are going to drop so low tomorrow that some of our wind plants may not be available.'"

She said if temperatures shut down wind farms in states like Iowa and Minnesota, for example, utilities within the network but unaffected by the weather could contribute resources to help.

Disclosure: Clean Energy Economy Minnesota & Clean Grid Alliance Coalition contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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