CHANDLER -- With wind whipping corn husks across roadways and forcing people to hang onto their hats, it seemed fitting weather for the dedication of Minnesota's largest wind farm and wind power transmission line Tuesday afternoon near Chandler.
Fenton Wind Project, with its 137 wind turbines in Murray and Nobles counties expected to generate up to 205 megawatts of electricity, will join other area wind farms in delivering an estimated 825 megawatts of power to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for distribution across the state. Xcel's newly completed transmission lines -- a 345-kilovolt line and two 115-kilovolt lines -- will transmit the power that is generated.
Officials from Xcel Energy, Northern States Power, enXco and Mortenson Construction celebrated the completion of the transmission line and wind turbines with a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people, including land owners, supporting businesses and political leaders.
"This is the biggest transmission project in Xcel Energy's history, involving all of Xcel's engineering and construction staff ... and a number of other partners," said Doug Jaeger, vice president of Xcel Energy Transmission.
The Fenton Wind Project consists of 140 miles of transmission lines and 975 steel structures, two new substations and two upgraded substations and enough concrete used in forming the foundations to build a 4-foot sidewalk that stretches 140 miles, he added.
While the blades were turning on many of the turbines Tuesday, the wind farm has yet to operate at full capacity. Final approval from the regional transmission operator is needed to get the entire project on line.
Kent Larson, regional vice president for Northern States Power-Minnesota, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, said the wind is a great resource for the area.
"But to actually utilize the wind and the energy out here, you need to build transmission, and that's what we're really here to talk about today," he said.
"If you talk to customers, everybody loves wind," he said. "As (Jaeger) said, if you like wind, you need to love transmission, because ... you need to get it from where it's produced to where most of the load is."
Xcel's efforts have put it at the forefront of electrical utilities across the nation in its use of wind energy. By the end of this year, it will be using more than 1,000 megawatts of wind energy to supply customers in Minnesota, with a goal of 4,000 megawatts of wind energy online by 2020.
"That means about 25 percent of the energy we deliver to our customers will come from wind energy," Larson said. "It's been a lot of hard work to get to this point, but it's what our customers are looking for."
James Walker, vice president of Asset Management, enXco, and president of the American Wind Energy Association, said wind energy has become "one of the real hopes for mankind," and referred to the southwest Minnesota wind farm as the heartland of the United States and the Saudi Arabia of wind.
Nationwide, 14,000 megawatts of energy are generated from wind, and another 6,000 megawatts are under construction. Walker said energy companies are working toward getting 300,000 megawatts of energy from the wind -- equal to that now generated from nuclear power.
"We need to win the hearts and the minds of 200 utility board rooms over the next 15 years to make sure that they build wind and not too much coal," Walker said. "That's going to be where the battle is ... won or lost."
Walker said work must also be done in the political arena to ensure wind is a "major part of energy policy," that production tax credits for wind energy development be extended, and that a federal renewable portfolio be adopted to require other utility companies to generate a portion of their energy needs from wind.
"For rural development, this is probably the best thing that's been discovered in rural development since rural electrification," Walker said. "More than 80 landowners are involved in this -- it is a steady, four-year, guaranteed income. It doesn't fluctuate like corn and soybeans."
Xcel Energy recently received approval for another project that will generate an additional 1,200 megawatts of energy from wind by 2009, said Jaeger.
"Hopefully, we'll be back here in two years ... celebrating another 1,200 megawatts on the Xcel system," he added.