Colorado’s Wind Farms


About 5 years ago wind farms started popping up in Colorado. They are easy to spot from the air and can be seen for many miles because the structures are so enormous. A modern wind turbine can reach well over 400 feet into the air.

Over a span of less than 3 decades wind turbines have increased from an average rotor size of 10 meters generating 25KW to a rotor size of 112 meters generating up to 6 MW per turbine. The 3+ MW turbines are generally installed in the ocean about 5-10 miles off shore where the wind is steady. Land based wind turbines are generally rated at less than 2 MW. Each 1 MW of wind energy is enough power for approximately 300 households based on an average U.S. household consumption rate of around 900 kWh per month. The average power available from wind turbines, also called their ‘capacity factor’, is about 1/3 of their rated generating capacity because the wind is not constant. They make their rated power in winds about 20-25 mph and will not generate any more than the rated power even when the wind increases above that speed because it would over stress the system. Above about 55-60 mph, the wind turbine will protect itself by locking its rotor so that the blades will not get damaged.

Here in Colorado there are many locations where the wind is nearly always blowing on the plains and there aren’t any obstructions on the ground to slow it down. Other than the trees along the Platte river, there is virtually no vegetation taller than a cornstalk between here and Nebraska. And Wyoming has even higher wind and fewer trees than Colorado in the eastern side of the state.

I was out flying today and took a few photos of the Ponnequin Wind Farm up near the border of Wyoming to take a look at Colorado’s first wind farm which was built about 6 years ago. You can see a photo of it below.

If you’re curious about the Ponnequin wind farm you can read a little about it here at the American Wind Energy Association website. If you have Google Earth, you can get a satellite view of it here. Or here on Google Maps.

About 60 miles east of the Ponnequin Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in Colorado called Cedar Creek is currently under construction. During the past few months I’ve been monitoring the progress of it since it’s not far from Greeley, at least not as the crow (or LongEZ) flies, and I’m astonished at how fast it’s getting built. A few months ago, there were only a few towers standing and now they have more than 200+ towers erected. I timed how long it took me to fly from one end to the other and it was 5 minutes, flying at 160 miles an hour which means it stretches 13 miles from east to west. It’s on land that previously didn’t have much use due to sparse population and lack of water for irrigation. I did some quick calculations and realized that this wind farm will generate more than $80M/year in electricity from its 273 wind turbines, based on the average of around $.10/KWh currently paid in the U.S. by consumers. That’s not a bad return since the fuel, a major cost for conventional power plants, is free in the case of wind power.

Looking down from above on these structures, it’s hard to fathom how big they are. In the picture above, the closest wind turbine has a large truck parked near its base which is virtually invisible in the photo. That gives you an approximate idea of the scale of these structures. Go ahead and click on that image to get a higher resolution photo of it and a better idea of the relative size of the truck and the wind turbine.

One of the biggest logistical issues with constructing these wind farms is getting the materials to the site. The tower sections take up most of the highway when transported and are nearly 60 feet long per section. It takes 3 of them to make up the tower. Similarly, the rotor blades are enormous, over 100 feet in length. Can you imagine trying to get that to go around a corner?

Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark is currently building a turbine blade plant in Windsor, CO, just about 10 miles from where I live. This will better accommodate the delivery of large turbine blades to wind farm sites in the western U.S.

In talking with a rancher in Wyoming recently, it appears that a lot of site surveys have been underway over the years to construct wind farms there, turning what was very marginal land into a valuable resource to provide clean, renewable energy for future generations. Even though the Cedar Creek site seems expansive, and it is, there is so much land in eastern Colorado and Wyoming that would be ideal for wind farms that it’s easy to imagine building them for the next 20 or 30 years. That’s about the average life expectancy of the wind generating equipment, so after they’ve done that, they will get to do it over again.

Buying an Experimental Homebuilt Airplane


This week I got a few emails from people asking me about a LongEZ that is for sale in Loveland and is listed in Trade-A-Plane. It just so happens that I know the owner, since I purchased an engine from him a few months ago and wrote up the experience in my blog. I did not know his airplane because I had never seen it close up. I’d seen it from a distance, and while purchasing the engine we had some discussions about it, but I had never seen it up close so I couldn’t comment on it. Yesterday I arranged to meet with him at his hangar so I could assess it for the people who had emailed me.

Buying a used homebuilt, that is, an experimental aircraft, is not for the faint-of-heart. Even the most beautiful specimens may contain fatal flaws, as was the case with the LongEZ that John Denver purchased. That LongEZ sold for the highest price I’d ever seen paid for a LongEZ at the time, around $55K and that was in 1996. From what I understand, the plane was quite stunning in appearance, and appearance more than any factor, seems to drive the price of a homebuilt airplane, particularly if it is in ‘showplane’ condition. However, in that aircraft’s case, the fuel valve was installed in such a way that the ergonomics were absolutely terrible. Ironically, the decision to make this modification was presumably to enhance the safety of the fuel valve, but it created several other more serious problems in the process, namely, that the pilot had to turn around to use it and that the direction of the valve stem with respect to the selected tank was counter-intuitive. In addition, it used a valve that had long been known for its tendency to gall and stick and it was at the end of a long torque tube, which greatly exacerbated the sticking problem. While fiddling with this valve after having run a tank dry and the engine stop, John Denver became so distracted that he crashed the airplane (full accident report here). It was completely unnecessary because an engine outage is no reason to crash vertically into the ground, or, in his case, into the water, at nearly a vertical angle. When the engine stops, the plane is effectively a glider which can be landed in a gentle manner on a level surface like water without killing the plane’s occupants.

Each homebuilt aircraft is unique. Some production planes tend to become more unique over time as their instrument panels tend to take on a life of their own as they get ‘upgraded’ over many decades with a whole host of oddities. However, in the case of a homebuilt plane, the ability to customize knows no limits and so you can’t just purchase one without examining it carefully to know how everything is arranged.

When building an airplane, deviating from the plans must be done with some degree of caution. For example, if one person makes a modification and calls it an improvement, it’s not a good idea to follow suit until you know of several dozen who were able to repeat this modification with similar results. If it’s truly an improvement, then many of the builders will eventually adopt it and it will add to the value of the aircraft once it’s universally recognized as an improvement to the design. In the case of a LongEZ, the improvements that are generally considered improvements over the original plans include the Roncz canard, larger rudders, heavy duty brakes, brake cylinders installed in the nose, and an O-320 engine. Each of those will enhance the value of the plane.

If you really want to diminish the plane’s value, you can install an automotive engine, and you’d be lucky to get any money over the cost of the airframe when you sell it, which generally accounts for about 60% of the typical value of a similar airplane with an aircraft engine. In other words, about 40% of the value of an aircraft is in the engine, but only if it has an aircraft engine. Even though automotive engines are cheaper to purchase and maintain, it will require a fair amount of time to adapt it to an airframe. For some homebuilders, the challenge of using an auto engine is its own reward. Having an automotive engine decrease of the aircraft’s value may not be fair, but it is a testament to the uncertainty factor of having an unknown, unique engine in a plane and not having a statistically significant sample of other similarly equipped aircraft. It really makes the airplane earn its ‘experimental’ moniker.

In the case of the plane I examined, I found it to be a solidly built plane, with over 450 hours on the airframe and good workmanship throughout as well as some nice upgrades. There were some areas that need to be further upgraded or repaired, but overall it looked like a pretty good deal to me.

It’s important to have someone with experience in the type of aircraft you’re considering to look it over before committing to purchase it because there are many potential pitfalls in buying a used homebuilt. Builders often can be overly fond of their creations and are not impartial judges when describing them so you need to get an independent assessment. In many ways, an aircraft one builds is like a child, and it’s hard to judge one’s own child impartially.

When I was in looking for a LongEZ nearly 20 years ago, I talked with some people who had the ugliest planes I’ve ever seen try to tell me that they were in ‘showplane’ condition. It really made an impression on me that you should never buy something without seeing it first. And you should definitely bring someone along who will talk you out of it when you’re in the mode of thinking that some material possession is the ‘one thing separating you from true and everlasting happiness’.

How to make mailing labels with Excel and Word


I’ve done mailing labels over the years when I was the local chapter EAA newsletter editor and then a few times for Christmas cards, but each time I do them now, it seems that I can’t remember the steps it takes to repeat the process and as a result, it feels like I have to learn it all over again. So today I carefully went through the procedure because I’m helping out with my high school reunion and we will need to print out mailing labels several times in the next few months. I figured other people might want to know how to do it, so I will give the step-by-step method here in the blog.

First of all, you will need to put your mailing database in an Excel spreadsheet. Even though you’ll use the MailMerge function of Word, a spreadsheet is much easier for manipulating lists of data compared with trying to work with tables in Word. You should title the columns with intuitive names such as, LastName, FirstName, Address1, City, State, Zip code because if you do, MailMerge will usually correctly guess the order to arrange the data when it comes time to put them into a mailing label format.

I like using type 5160 Avery adhesive labels which are arranged in 8.5″ x 11″ sheets with individual labels 1″ x 2.625″ spaced 3 across and 11 down for a total of 33 labels per page.

[Note: When I first wrote these instructions, I was using Office 2003. Now that I have Office 2007, I can see that some of the menus have been changed. I’ll add some extra instructions below for those with Office 2007.]

Here are the steps for producing labels using the Mail Merge program in Microsoft Word:

Launch Word and use File->New to create a Blank Document

Tools->Letters and Mailings->Mail Merge Wizard

[Office 2007: Mailings -> Start Mail Merge -> Step-by-step Mail Merge Wizard ]

You’ll see Step 1 of 6:

Choose the option ‘Labels’ then select ‘Next’ at the bottom of the menu.

Step 2: Make sure ‘Change document layout’ radio button is selected and then and select ‘Label options…’ below it.

This will take you to a Label Options menu that allows you to select a label type. I use ‘Avery Standard’ and type ‘5160 Address’. Then select OK. Office 2007 asks you if it’s OK to overwrite your document at this point. Select OK.

In Word 2003, a grid should appear in your document that shows labels borders spaced in 3 columns, 11 rows per sheet. This grid doesn’t appear in Word 2007.

Step 3: Now select ‘Next: Select recipients’

Make sure the option to ‘Select/Use an Existing list’ is selected and the select ‘Browse’ and find the .xls file on your computer with your database and then open it. Select the spreadsheet page you wish to use. If it has just one page, you will see $Sheet1 and you should select it. In Word 2003 you may select ‘entire spreadsheet’ if you have only one sheet. You will then see a list of names from the spreadsheet. Select OK. You may have to select OK again. A list of <> entries will appear in the document.

Step 4: Now select ‘Next: Arrange your labels’

Select ‘Address Block’. Look at the preview field to see if the example label has all the information you want. Because of the layout of the heading row spreadsheet, it should be correct. If it’s not, you can fix it by selecting the ‘Match fields’ option and editing them. Now select OK. You should see <> in the first label and <> in all the other labels. Select ‘Update all labels’. This will cause the text <> to be added to all the labels that previously had just <> in them. So the first field will have <> and all the others will have <><>.

Note: If you wish to have more control over your labels, instead of selecting ‘address block’, you can select ‘More options’ and this will allow you to apply the exact amount of spacing, carriage returns, etc., around each field. I’ve found this helpful if you have international addresses mixed in.

Step 5: Now select ‘Next: Preview your labels’

Now you will see a sample page of the labels.

At this point, you can select ‘Print…’ which will walk you through the steps of printing out the labels on a local printer, or you can select ‘Edit individual labels…’ If you select that, it will create a Word document file that you can edit or store away for future use or print from another computer. I usually use that option.

I should mention that there was an issue with the zip codes that started with ‘0’ (zero). You should format that field in the spreadsheet as a ‘special’ zip code field, which is an option in the format command of Excel. Then during the import to MailMerge, I had to use these steps.

Preparing DDE settings in Microsoft Word:
If you perform a mail merge in Office 2003 and use Excel as the data source, some of the numeric data may not retain its formatting when merged. To resolve this:
1. Open Word
2. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the General tab.
3. Click to select Confirm conversion at open check box, and click OK.
4. Continue creating the mail merge as explained above
5. Open Data Source.
6. In the Confirm Data Source dialog box, click MS Excel Worksheets via DDE (*.xls), then click OK.

You may have to answer a few questions when you import the .xls file but it will fix any issues with the zip code field, especially with those starting with ‘0’ (zero).

Another trick to making labels is printing a single sheet of labels out on plain paper first to make sure the alignment is OK. You can hold the sheet of labels up to the light with the printed paper labels behind it and insure that the text will all end up inside the sticky label borders. You don’t want to be making mistakes on the label stock because it’s much more expensive than plain paper.

Hybrids require more energy than Hummers?


I’ve read several references to a report that alleges that the total energy costs per mile of a hybrid vehicle exceed that of an H3 Hummer, and by a significant margin too, more than 50%. I decided to look up the source of this information and found a 450+ page report filled with spreadsheets on various costs it takes to run a vehicle over its life expectancy and beyond. There was a lot of interesting information in the report, like how many miles a typical vehicle is driven before being recycled, how much money is spent on repair, how much it costs to recycle, as well as a lot of feedback and industry reports attached to th end of it.

Manufacturers estimate that the energy used to produce a vehicle is about 20% of the amount of energy it burns in fuel over its lifetime. The fuel cost over the life of a vehicle is easy to compute. For example, if a car gets 25 miles to the gallon, and is driven 180,000 miles before it’s recycled, it would use about 7200 gallons of gasoline, and at a cost of $3.00 per gallon, this would come out to $21,600 or $.12 per mile, which seems quite believable. Add to that another 20% for the energy required to produce the car ($4320) or $.02/mile and you have a total energy cost of roughly $.14 per mile. This value seems plausible, although it doesn’t include the recycling energy cost which one might assume is on the same order of magnitude as the energy cost to produce the vehicle.

However, the report, available for free from CNW Research, estimates that most of the energy used by a vehicle comes not from the energy to produce it and to power it over its lifetime, but rather from the recycling cost and that accounts for most of their $3.238 per mile estimate for a Honda Civic Hybrid and $1.949 per mile estimate for an H3. A Honda Civic Hybrid is one of the most fuel efficient vehicles on the road whereas an an H3 is a very large SUV and gets about a quarter of the fuel economy of the Hybrid. So it’s hard to imagine an inverse relationship in energy cost per mile, and why would the real energy costs exceed the ‘apparent’ energy costs by not just a factor of 2 or 3, but more than 20 times? The report suggests that the amount of energy used in recycling is related to the ‘complexity’ of the vehicle and that the complexity of hybrids makes them much more expensive to recycle than a simpler vehicle that has been in production for a longer period of time.

After combing through the entire report and seeing numbers calculated out to such a high degree of precision, yet showing no calculations for the actual recycle costs, I can only conclude that they must be a guess.

A manufacturer has to have a pretty good idea of how much energy goes into a vehicle’s manufacture. After all, they have to sell the car for well more than just the energy that goes into it or they’d go broke in a hurry. The same is true for their part suppliers. Similarly, a recycler wouldn’t take a car for recycling if the value of the material derived from it would be completely be overshadowed by the energy cost it would take to recycle it. Much of the material gets recycled from a vehicle simply *because* it’s cheaper to used recycled materials than it is to process the material from scratch. If this were not the case, these materials would end up buried in a landfill, end of story. So saying that the recycle cost exceeds the original vehicle’s cost and all of its apparent energy usage by an order of magnitude or more simply makes no sense.

The research seems to indicate that the recycle costs are somehow hidden in the operating costs and profits of other businesses but that similarly makes little sense. Surely the report wouldn’t intend to count the energy cost to produce a single car as somehow having to include the costs of other cars that may be produced by that same material after it’s recycled. That would would be not just double or triple counting energy, but counting the energy for each recycling operation against the original vehicle for all eternity. Again, that would make absolutely no sense.

So my conclusion is that the research is flawed and the only reason it gets any attention is because it alleges something that anti-environmentalists find so outrageously compelling, i.e., that H3’s are more environmentally friendly than hybrid vehicles. And I write this not as a hybrid car owner, but as an owner of a 15 mpg SUV. I just don’t like research that gets so many references without being critically examined.