CASPER, Wyo. — A Wyoming company hopes to begin testing what could be a game-changing way to store energy generated by wind turbines at a small project site near Guernsey by late 2014.
Winhyne Energy Group, a company based in Cheyenne, has told Platte County commissioners it wants to build a nine-turbine wind project on a 320-acre plot just west of Guernsey.
The project's ultimate goal is to prove the company's technology can be used to store energy generated by wind turbines, currently a use-it-or-lose-it problem.
Winhyne's demonstration will cap years of research and development into whether the energy can be stored and used as needed by customer demand.
"It's eight years in the making," Dean Byrne, the company's president and vice chairman, said Wednesday. "We are now looking to take it to a commercial level."
Byrne presented his company's plans Tuesday to the Platte County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners weren't required to approve the project, but Byrne said he wanted to let the county know about the plan.
The $25 million demonstration project will test technology developed by Winhyne and the Canadian firm Lancaster Wind Systems. The facility would be capable of generating about 10 megawatts of electricity.
The endeavor has caught the attention of wind proponents.
"It’s very intriguing," said Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. "If it works, it would have a big impact on how wind (power) is generated."
Many researchers are working on projects to store energy on a large scale — a goal not yet achieved.
The energy storage problem sparks a common criticism of wind energy. Critics often target wind power's failure to generate consistent power levels, because producers can't control when the wind blows and can't store the energy generated by their turbines.
Instead of power being created by generators in the nacelle, or top, of the tower, hydraulic pumps are attached to the turbines in Winhyne's tower. As the turbines rotate, the pumps move, generating pressure, which is used to turn a hydraulic motor and spin a generator.
If power from the turbine isn't immediately needed, that same pressure is used to compress nitrogen into a pipeline system. Byrne said the nitrogen can be stored in the pipelines until power from the system is needed, at which point the company can release the gas at a controlled rate, powering the motor and generator.
Winhyne is still negotiating with current owners of the planned location. The company opted to conduct the project on private land because the permitting process is easier.
"It's a little simpler, quicker process to do," he said.
The company expects to begin operations in the third quarter of 2014.
"We’re definitely supportive of what they’re trying to do," Drain said. "I want to see it work."