OLIVIA -- Yusef Orest spent Tuesday morning watching crews prepare the way for 12 wind towers to be erected on the open landscape south of Cosmos as part of the Adams Wind project.
Orest, with Juhl Wind of Woodstock, Minn., said the wind farm taking shape in Meeker County represents a $40 million investment. When completed, the wind farm will have the capacity to feed 19.8 megawatts of electricity to the community-owned wind venture's main customer, Xcel Energy.
Orest spent Tuesday afternoon lined up with a panel of wind power developers looking to erect dozens of other towers in the Willmar and Olivia areas. They spoke Tuesday at a utility-scale wind energy forum held in Olivia sponsored by the Southwest Initiative Foundation and the Renville County EDA.
Wind power projects are moving forward in the area although speakers admitted that the challenges are many. There is a need for more long-distance transmission capacity. And, the process of obtaining approval to hook projects to the regional grid remains costly, slow and difficult.
And, the market is greatly changed from just a few years ago.
Speakers noted that there could be more wind projects being proposed in Minnesota than the market may be able to support. Utilities in the state are shopping for wind power to help them meet the state's requirement that they obtain 25 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2025. Xcel is looking for 30 percent of its power by that date.
All bets are off once the utilities have contracts in hand to meet those needs, participants noted.
Added to their worries is the downward price pressure evident in the current market. The fall in the price for natural gas has lowered the price at which wind power must be provided. "The price of natural gas really sets the market,'' said Tony Yonnone of Horizon Wind LLC.
The Houston-based subsidiary of EDP Renewables that Yonnone represents has three meteorological towers erected in the area between Willmar and Olivia collecting data on wind capacity. It is looking for landowners willing to lease land for what could be a 50- to 100- megawatts wind farm the company would like to develop, he said.
Yonnone said the current market requires that wind power projects meet a $40 megawatts price point, which can only be achieved through the efficiencies of large wind farms.
"If you can't beat that, there's no sense doing a project,'' he said.
Two other proposed projects have already signed up interested landowners and investors.
Unlike Horizon Wind, which would be the sole-owner of its wind turbines, the Norfolk Wind and Lake Country Wind projects proposed in Renville and Kandiyohi counties are based on local or community ownership.
"It's almost like people were waiting in line to sign up for the project,'' said David Scheibel, representing Norfolk Wind, of the response the company has found. Norfolk Wind has 47 landowner-investors offering 9,000 acres of land south of Bird Island and Olivia in Renville County for a wind farm.
Norfolk Wind intends to develop 40 megawatts of wind power. It is currently negotiating with prospective customers for the power. It has already collected on-site wind data to know that the capacity exists for a commercial scale project in Renville County. "The wind data was more than favorable from what we were expecting,'' said Scheibel.
A 328-foot tall tower is currently collecting wind data to show Lake Country Wind Energy the potential for its proposed wind farm in eastern Kandiyohi western Meeker counties.
Lake Country Wind's community-ownership model has also been well received by landowners, according to Brian Stuart, representing Lake Country Wind. It has 126 landowners lined up to lease land for towers, and 108 investors.
Lake Country Wind is hoping to erect a first phase development for 41 megawatts of electricity, with a long-term goal for a 340-megawatts farm. Since this is a part of the state with "moderate'' wind resources relative to areas like the Buffalo Ridge, the company is looking at erecting some of the state's tallest turbines. It plans to install 2.05 megawatt Repower turbines atop 328-foot tall towers, as compared to the 262-foot towers holding the Willmar Municipal Utilities twin turbines.
The two Willmar towers could soon be greatly out-numbered as well. William Glahn, director of the Minnesota office of Energy Security, arrived at the Olivia conference to announce that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved two major wind projects in the region that very morning.
Glahn said the PUC approved plans for a 95-megawatt project for townships north of Paynesville. It also approved the 138-megawatts Bitter Roots project for up to 60-turbines along the South Dakota border in Yellow Medicine and Lincoln counties.