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Group discusses guide for county's wind energy goals

WILLMAR -- A local group is helping Kandiyohi County inch closer to its goal of having an economy based on ag-based, renewable resources by 2015. Wind energy, gasification, a methane digester, as well as using manure, corn stover, dried distiller...

WILLMAR -- A local group is helping Kandiyohi County inch closer to its goal of having an economy based on ag-based, renewable resources by 2015.

Wind energy, gasification, a methane digester, as well as using manure, corn stover, dried distillers grain from ethanol plants and garbage from the landfill as fuel are all on the table when it comes to shaking out an energy plan for the future.

On Thursday, the Agribusiness and Renewable Energy Development Committee, which is an arm of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, heard updates on all of those fronts.

Bob Meyerson, a committee member who has installed his own small-scale wind turbine near Atwater, has helped compile a guide for others who are investigating whether or not to invest in individual units.

The guide, which will be going to the printer soon and will be available for free, provides a check list of issues to consider before deciding whether or not to put up a wind turbine. It also includes a list of names and agencies in Kandiyohi County that can serve as resources in carrying through the construction process.

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Meyerson said the publication will provide a practical and realistic guide about the challenges and procedures for embarking upon small-scale wind energy.

He said people interested in wind turbines can get "smothered" in general information on the Internet.

The guide the committee is producing boils down the "what do you do" information into a booklet that will be especially helpful to Kandiyohi County residents. Meyerson said 75 percent of the information is relevant to the county. The committee is also investigating options for locating a wind farm somewhere in Kandiyohi County. They'll be bringing in a speaker in mid-September to meet with elected officials, business leaders and farmers to gauge interest in pursuing a large-scale endeavor.

Part of the process of placing a wind farm includes finding landowners with enough acreage who would be willing to participate in the venture, said Meyerson.

At the committee's urging, the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission will be considering adding a provision to the zoning ordinance regarding placement of wind turbines.

The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to regulate the installation and operation of "wind energy conversion systems" within the county, specifically regarding site selection and oversight not covered by the state's Minnesota Power Plant Siting Act.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the EDC, said the committee is "very serious" about introducing wind as a source of renewable energy in Kandiyohi County.

Renewable energy requires an available source of biomass, ranging from animal manure to landfill garbage. The committee is continuing to look at the options.

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Renae Shields, a contract employee with the EDC, said a previous study completed by the Agricultural Utilization and Research Institute on available biomass in the region, including Kandiyohi County, will be made available to the committee at no charge. That will help identify what type of material is available, how much is available and where it's located. That information will be useful in determining what kind of process and fuel would be best suited for generating renewable energy in the county.

The committee on Thursday also:

- Agreed it would be inappropriate for members of the group to travel to either China or Sweden at this time to discuss a partnership on renewable energy technology. The decision was made because there is currently no project in the works in Kandiyohi County.

- Was informed that the Bushmills Ethanol plant in Atwater wanted additional information and time before deciding on whether or not to pursue a project to use gasification of ethanol byproducts to generate natural gas to operate the plant.

- Was informed that the committee's requested budget of $80,000 for 2007 will likely be reduced to $50,000.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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