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Edina company developing wind farm north of Paynesville

Geronimo Wind developers Justin Pickar, left, and Jay Hesse, right, discuss wind energy issues with Paynesville farmer Ken Schefers. Geronimo Wind is developing a wind farm that will include the Schefers farm. About 80 percent of the farmers in the target area have signed leases to have turbines located on their land. If the company is able to obtain the proper permits and market the power, installation of more than 40 turbines may take place next year.

PAYNESVILLE -- Justin Pickar drove up a county road just north of Paynesville and gestured across the countryside. "I've been in most of the kitchens around here," he said.

Pickar, a development associate with Geronimo Wind of Edina, has been working for more than a year with farmers in the area to develop a 95-megawatt wind farm.

About 80 percent of the farmers in the target area have signed leases to have turbines located on their land. If the company is able to obtain the proper permits and market the power, installation of more than 40 turbines could take place next year.

Ken Schefers, who farms Schefers Brothers Farm with his brother Ralph, was among the first to sign up for the wind farm, in May 2009. Standing near his dairy barn last week, Schefers talked about his decision.

The Schefers family expects to have about five turbines on their land. It could be one more or less, depending on wind studies and setback requirements. They will have more than some others because they have a large piece of land that isn't broken up by farm sites, he said.

Schefers said he and his wife Julie were in favor of the plan and had previously looked into starting a community-based wind farm development. Their five children were skeptical of that idea but more enthusiastic about the idea put forth by Geronimo Wind, he said.

"I've always been concerned about energy uses," said Schefers. "I like the whole renewable thing; I think it's extremely responsible, and that contributed to our decision."

There is apprehension about having people he doesn't know digging in his fields, he said, "but the good side of it outweighs the fears."

The majority of people have been supportive of the project, he said.

"I didn't try to pressure people," he said. "I don't think Geronimo pressured people."

Some people don't want a turbine on their land and don't want to see them on anyone else's land, either, Schefers said. "We're getting used to the idea of looking at them," he added.

Schefers said the Paynesville FFA float has a wind turbine on it, along with other representations of farm life. "That was pleasant to see," he said, as Pickar asked where he could see the float.

Pickar said Geronimo Wind hopes to complete construction north of Paynesville in the third quarter of 2011. A lot of work has been done, he said, but much remains.

The company has also signed wind easements with land owners in the project area and has done engineering and environmental studies. Towers to study the wind are in place and collecting data. The company is in the process of obtaining state and local permits.

Next comes developing a power purchase agreement with a utility that wants to purchase the wind power.

"What brought us to Paynesville is the transmission grid," Pickar said. The substation owned by Xcel Energy has 95 megawatts of excess capacity, and the proposed wind farm is just a few miles north of it.

After the power agreement comes ordering the turbines, lining up financing and construction.

Wind studies and setback requirements will be used to determine where turbines will be located. "Siting these things is more science than art," he said.

When setbacks, easements, environmental impacts and wind information are overlaid on a map, he said, the buildable areas come into focus.

The company has put a lot of effort into engaging nearby communities. Pickar said he has started many of his mornings at the Wishin' Well Café in downtown Paynesville, visiting with businessmen, farmers and others who gathered for morning coffee. "I would not have an agenda; I would just show up for pancakes."

Geronimo conducted a community open house in Paynesville in June and expects to have another in August.

Pickar and Ken Anderson, a Geronimo Wind developer working on projects near Cold Spring, said they know that not everyone likes wind farm developments. Some of the landowners who declined to participate in the Paynesville project have said they didn't want to look at the turbines, but others said no for other reasons.

Geronimo tries to calm opposition by knowing how to work with farmers, Pickar said. The founder is a former farmer who has a turbine on his own land.

The company hires people who come from rural areas. Pickar is from North Dakota. Anderson grew up in Minneota. Another developer, Jay Hesse, is from Eden Valley.

"We call ourselves farmer-friendly," Pickar said. "We don't blow smoke; we're straight shooters."

Along with knowing how to work with farmers, the company also tries to become part of a community where it works, the developers said.

The company works with the Chamber of Commerce and local economic development officials. The project will make $19,000 in annual donations to support local projects.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340