Missouri Town Is Running On Vapor — And Thriving The town of Rock Port in northwest Missouri is the first community in the United States to be completely powered by wind. The small community owes its energy independence to the presence of four massive wind turbines.

Missouri Town Is Running On Vapor — And Thriving

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Think of all the electricity generated in the United States as a pie. Then carve out a nice, big slice, a fifth of the pie. That's the Department of Energy's goal for wind power. It could take decades. It's the goal.

Well, there's a tiny town in the northwest tip of Missouri where the wind-power slice is the whole pie and then some. Frank Morris of member-station KCUR in Kansas City reports.

FRANK MORRIS: Tag along with Helen Jo Stevens on her morning walk, and it's best not to get between her dog, Quincy, and a number of certain posts along the way.

Mayor HELEN JO STEVENS (Rock Port, Missouri): Whoa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor STEVENS: He's got - he's got them all marked, Frank.

MORRIS: Stevens is about five-feet tall with curly, grey hair and a quick smile. She's wearing her running shoes. She's the mayor here, and for decades, Rock Port's decline has been almost as predictable as her morning walk. The population has fallen off almost two-percent a year lately, but trudge up to the old cemetery, and it's Rock Port's future that comes into view.

Mayor STEVENS: Okay, here's one of the turbines you see right in front of you here to our right. Wow, I've never talked this much while I'm walking those hills.

MORRIS: But Stevens has been talking a lot lately. Reporters from around the world are calling because the wind turbines in Rock Port generate more electricity than the people here use.

Mayor STEVENS: To become the one and only and first wind-powered community in the whole United States, it's overwhelming, actually. How did this ever happen to a little old town like ours?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of clanging)

MORRIS: Mostly, it had to do with a guy named Eric Chamberlain.

Mr. ERIC CHAMBERLAIN (Resident, Rock Port, Missouri): There are cattle behind this gate, and they have every right to graze around that wind turbine, and we just don't want them getting out, trying to herd them back in.

MORRIS: The four, slowly spinning white turbines up on this ridge are as tall as 35-story buildings.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Did I ever think this would happen? No, not in a million years.

MORRIS: Really.

MR. CHAMBERLAIN: No. This is beyond my imagination.

MORRIS: Chamberlain's inspiration came years ago when his old mortuary job took him up to a funeral in northern Iowa. It was a cold, lonely drive, past a lot of wind turbines.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I'm thinking, why can't we do this, you know? We've got wind.

MORRIS: So there he was, his mind spinning, driving along with a corpse in back of the hearse.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: That's obviously why I didn't pull over on the way up. You know, I had to on the way back.

MORRIS: He got out and looked. He got online and searched. The more he learned, the more this wind-power deal made sense, at least to him.

Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Well, I am - I would say I was persistent.

Mr. RAYMOND HENAGAN (Business Operator, Rock Port, Missouri): Well, he came to my office and talked to me about it and wanted to know what my opinion was, and I told him Eric, you are off of your rocker.

MORRIS: Raymond Henagan runs a phone, cable and data-storage company in Rock Port. Back then, there was no precedent for this kind of project and nobody to pay for it, but when a wind-power developer showed up one day, Chamberlain was ready with wind data collected from the hills.

Then John Deere, the tractor company, brought in turbines and leased the land to put them on. They put two dozen up nearby and another four inside the city limits, wired those four to the city-owned power grid and bang, the 1,300 residents of Rock Port, Missouri had more wind energy than they could use. Almost everyone here, Henagan included, is delighted.

Mr. HENAGAN: We all know that energy cost is going to go nothing but up, and if we can stabilize some of these costs, we can provide decent jobs for the future for these young people.

MORRIS: Two dozen of them work here, in a plain building just off Main Street. Tall banks of computers here, backup data from companies across the country. Michael Goins runs this fast, growing part of business, and he's proud to be running it mainly on wind power.

Mr. MICHAEL GOINS (Business Operator, Rock Port, Missouri): And what we're wanting to do is to produce a logo and enable our customers to display that logo that says, hey, I'm carbon neutral or my Web site currently is being powered by wind power right now.

MORRIS: Of course, the wind doesn't always blow, and when it's still, Rock Port buys power off the grid. Most days, though, wind power runs everything here, and Rock Port exports electricity.

Folks here hope that system will help the town stop exporting population. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

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