COSMOS -- Not since sod buster days has the start of a new farm generated this much interest in Meeker County.
In this case, it's two farms. More than 500 people are estimated to have attended an open house on June 22 to celebrate the Adams Wind and Danielson Wind farms near Cosmos and Grove City, respectively.
"It's the energy resource we have in Minnesota,'' said Doug Adams, who along with his wife Karen launched Adams Wind.
Each of the wind farms consists of 12 turbines. Each unit stands 404-feet tall from base to tip of the blade. Each is a Spanish-built Alstom with the capacity to generate 1.65 megawatts.
When the winds are right, the two wind farms can produce nearly 40 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power 10,000 to 12,000 homes, or virtually every household in the county.
The electrons are actually intended for Xcel Energy, but Meeker County will benefit in a big way from these two farms.
Together, the $42-million investment represents one of the larger community-based wind projects in the state.
As community-owned ventures, the regional economy will see far more economic benefit than if these farms were owned by outside investors, according Arne Kildegaard, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Kildegaard conducted research that analyzed the economic benefits from wind farms under various ownership models.
"The real money is in the ownership,'' said Kildegaard. When wind farms are locally-owned, the profit stream stays close to home. The net effect is community-owned wind farms provide roughly three times the economic benefits to a local area, his research showed.
And no matter the ownership, the wind farms benefit the local area by providing annual lease payments to the owners of the land on which the towers stand; taxes to local government units; and jobs. Four full-time workers are responsible for maintaining Meeker County's twin "power plants,'' the owners point out.
"We just knew it was windy,'' said Steve Bergo in describing how he and his wife Conni decided to pursue the Danielson Wind Farm project. The Danielson Wind project consists of 11 investors from the area.
The Adams saw the opportunity to harvest the wind as a means to involve their family in a long-term, value added enterprise. Doug and Karen Adams, their four daughters and husbands are the investors in the project.
Steve Bergo and Doug Adams are ridge-till farmers who knew each other casually prior to developing the wind farms. The Adams and Bergo couples began their quests separately, but soon realized the benefits of joining forces. Both entities jointly purchased the equipment, consulting, legal and construction services that made the projects possible.
"It's not something you can do on your own,'' said Steve Bergo of bringing a wind power project to fruition. Juhl Wind of Woodstock helped oversee the projects.
The challenges were many, and often daunting.
The projects sought financing just as the country's financial markets went into disarray. Financial entities that had specialized in wind power disappeared, pointed out the Adamses.
Construction got underway last October, and Ryan Construction had to race against the clock to pour the foundations before the freeze-up. It took 1,425 truck loads of concrete to build the two wind farms.
As winter winds blew and temperatures plunged, workers began hoisting the Spanish built "nacelles'' atop the towers. Each unit, about the size of a charter bus, weighs 179,000 pounds.
Yet these projects had lots going for them, too. Wind monitoring confirmed that western Meeker County has a commercially developable wind resource, noted Bergo.
And the two projects had the very good fortune of being located in what's known as a "sweet spot.'' Most of the long-distance, electrical transmission network in Minnesota has limited capacity to spare.
However, an Xcel Energy-owned line running through Meeker County near Cosmos had available capacity. The projects took advantage of it and are sized accordingly. Having the ability to plug into the grid without the need for a costly investment in transmission capacity made the projects possible, said Bergo.
No less important was the ability to reach power purchase agreements with Xcel Energy. The 20-year agreements made it possible to finance and carry out the projects, the owners noted.
The state's renewable energy requirement for utilities makes that possible, they also pointed out. Minnesota utilities must acquire 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025; Xcel is obligated to obtain 30 percent by 2020.
Both wind farms went on-line in March, and early performance results are encouraging.
The turbines are visible from nearly 10 miles away, but the Adamses admit there's still times when it's hard to believe what they're seeing. "It really hasn't all sunk in yet,'' said Karen. "It's not real life yet. Hard to believe.''