Kentucky’s largest utility testing wind’s energy potential with state’s first utility-scale turbine

LG&E and KU expects Mercer County turbine to be fully operational by March

By: - January 3, 2024 11:55 am
A wind turbine stands tall during the evening.

LG&E and KU’s research wind turbine rises to 165 feet. (Photo courtesy of LG&E and KU)

Kentucky’s largest utility has built what it says is the state’s first utility-scale wind turbine in an effort to test the potential of wind energy. 

The wind turbine, which Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities (LG&E and KU) constructed at the end of last year with its parent company PPL Corporation, stands at 165 feet on the site of the utility’s E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County. The site is also home to a coal-fired power plant unit, a 10 megawatt solar installation, several gas-fired turbines and a hydroelectric plant.

LG&E and KU spokesperson Daniel Lowry in an interview said while Kentucky doesn’t have strong wind resources compared to other states farther west, the utility wanted to gather data on how well a wind turbine could actually perform in Kentucky.

“That data will help us determine the potential for the wind to contribute to renewable energy production here in Kentucky,” Lowry said. “We’re excited about it.” 

He said the utility plans to have the wind turbine fully operational in March with testing of the turbine currently underway. The turbine is expected to produce 193 megawatt-hours of power over one year, he said, the equivalent of powering an average of 16 homes over a year. Running at full capacity with the strongest winds, the turbine could power up to 90 homes. 

The Mercer County site isn’t the windiest part of Kentucky, he said, but the “wind is pretty good” at the site compared to elsewhere in the state. The strongest wind speeds in the state generally can be found in Western Kentucky. In Henderson County last year, a Nebraska-based renewable energy company obtained permits to place weather towers in the county to gauge the potential of wind turbines. 

The LG&E and KU wind turbine is relatively small compared to the average height of wind turbines being built elsewhere in the country, about 322 feet as of 2022. Generally, wind turbines have increased in height to capture stronger winds higher above the ground to generate more energy. Wind farms in states farther west can include hundreds of wind turbines creating enough energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes. 

Lowry said the single turbine is being paired with the existing solar installation as a part of the utility’s “renewable integration” research, with the idea of pairing the strengths of solar energy and wind energy to provide consistent power generation. Solar energy generates the most energy during the day and over the summer, while wind energy tends to generate more power at night and during the winter.

“You have this really nice relationship for renewable energy when you have both wind and solar generation, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Lowry said. 

The concept of pairing solar and wind energy has been pursued in other states by renewable energy companies at much larger scales. While Kentucky has a growing solar energy market, the state still largely relies on burning fossil fuels to generate its electricity. The state ranked last in the country for solar and wind power generation last year, according to federal data. 

Lowry said the wind turbine is one of numerous research projects being conducted by the utility and its parent company including the study of utility-scale electric battery storage, a project that state utility regulators approved last year.

A wind turbine stands tall near solar panels.
LG&E and KU’s wind turbine stands near solar panels that have the ability to track the sun across the sky. (Photo courtesy of LG&E and KU)

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.

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