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May 5, 2008

The Synergy Between Wind Energy and Freight Trains

train tracks, freight train, railThere were a pair of articles in Sunday's Denver Post about the synergy between the wind energy and heavy rail industries (I suppose you could also say there is a synergy between heavy rail and the energy industry, more broadly defined, as residents of the mountain west are all to familiar with the mile-long coal trains and natural gas filled tanks criss-crossing the landscape and creating delays).

When Vestas Wind Systems announced that they would locate their first North American blade plant in Windsor, Colorado, company officials said part of the reason for doing so was because of the site's proximity to the regional rail network. Each blade being produced at the Windsor facility will be about 150 feet, and at full production capacity, Vestas expects to roll out about six of those blades per day, making rail transport quite attractive, to say the least.

Now, Beaumont, Texas-based Dragon Wind has thrown its hat into the ring and announced its plans to open a plant in Lamar, Colorado that will build 262-foot steel wind turbine towers. Officials of Dragon parent Modern Group Ltd. said Colorado's stature in wind power and rail access to Lamar were keys in siting the plant.

Rising Fuel Costs Making Rail-Freight More Attractive

Skyrocketing fuel prices are contributing to noticeable shifts in the country's freight-by-rail traffic. Add to this, locomotive fuel efficiency that has increased 80 percent since 1980 and you end up with a train that can carry a ton of freight for 423 miles on a gallon of fuel.
Steve Raabe writes in the Denver Post article:

"Record high energy prices — especially for diesel that fuels locomotives — have hit railroads as hard as any other transportation sector. But rail's ability to handle trains with hundreds of cars gives it an efficiency advantage compared with tractor-trailer freight."
I will say this in reply to all of the above: If the time ever comes that I am stopped for ten minutes in downtown Fort Collins to let a freight train pass by with car after car loaded with wind turbine blades from nearby Windsor, rather than car after car of liquified natural gas from
the Powder Basin in Wyoming, or forest products from Idaho and Montana, I won't mind waiting.

Photo: disckychick

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