Popular vote: Willmar's push for alternative energy source is 'a great idea'

WILLMAR -- There was praise aplenty as an estimated 250 to 300 citizens and local and state officials gathered Thursday afternoon to celebrate and dedicate Willmar Municipal Utilities' two new wind turbines.

Alternative approach
An American flag is hoisted in the foreground Thursday near Willmar Municipal Utilities' two new wind turbines. Some 300 people attended a dedication ceremony for the turbines. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- There was praise aplenty as an estimated 250 to 300 citizens and local and state officials gathered Thursday afternoon to celebrate and dedicate Willmar Municipal Utilities' two new wind turbines.

"I certainly think they're awesome,'' said Elaine Frank of Willmar, standing with her husband, Myron, next to one of the 262-foot tall turbines.

"As a woman's point of view, they look magnificent. But I think the real value is in the alternative energy we get from it. I'm so glad to be part of this generation and see this happening,'' she said.

Kelly and Andy Zuidema of Willmar said the turbines are a great idea.

"It's a good step in the right direction. I was wondering when Willmar would get one,'' said Kelly.


"You see more of them down south but it's a good backup resource to any other energy resource that we have right now,'' said Andy.

Harold and Lorraine Ryks of Willmar had also taken the short bus ride from the program tent at the Willmar Senior High School bus parking lot to the turbine site just north of the school.

"I think it's wonderful. This is what's coming that we should have,'' said Harold. He said the couple travels to their winter home in Texas and they see turbines at various sites along the road. "I think it's time to have something like this and we should make some small ones for small business places.''

The turbines -- over three years in the making from initial studies to construction this year -- will produce about 3 percent of Willmar Municipal Utilities' annual electrical needs and will help Minnesota meet the mandate of producing 25 percent of the state's power from renewable resources by 2025, said program speakers.

"Everyone expects the big power companies to take care of renewable energy,'' said William Glahn, director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security. "But really it's going to take a lot of communities like the city of Willmar getting together and doing things themselves. These are two turbines that somebody else won't have to build and they're up and running today.''

Glahn said Willmar is at the leading edge and setting a great example of using the wind to generate electricity. He said most cities don't have their own turbines; most are found on big wind farms. Glahn said the state is only about a third of the way to meeting the mandate and said the state will need many more turbines.

"The ones and twos count as well in trying to get to that 25 percent renewable energy,'' he said. "We have about 1,800 megawatts (of wind power capacity installed), but we're going to need a couple of thousands more.''

Willmar Utilities had originally proposed to build four turbines: the first two near Ridgewater College and the second two at the high school. The Willmar School District provided generous support and consideration for a land lease for the machines, said project consultant Jon Folkedahl of Willmar.


However, due to some airport airspace issues, the utility was unable to use one of the college sites and the decision was made to switch to the high school site, he said.

"That's why these turbines were installed first but are numbered 3 and 4,'' said Folkedahl.

Besides producing about 10 million kilowatt-hours of electrical energy per year, he said the turbines have a number of environmental benefits over the life of the project: displacing 236,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 600 tons of sulfur dioxide, 530 tons of nitrous oxides and 35 tons of particulate matter.

The $8 million cost will be paid by municipal electric customers over 15 years.

Fifteen years from now, Folkedahl said, the average retail price of electricity in the United States will be more than 20 cents per kilowatt hour, while the cost of electricity from the turbines will be less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour.

"We can all be proud of the Willmar Municipal Utilities and proud of these wind turbines,'' said Folkedahl. "They will stand as a symbol of a forward-thinking community for many years to come.''

The dedication was followed by a musical program performed by the band We The People, sponsored by Citizens Energy Plan of Willmar.

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