Wind is back in their sails

MAYNARD -- Three area towns have once again caught the wind in their sails and are pursuing the possibility of erecting community-owned wind turbines.

MAYNARD -- Three area towns have once again caught the wind in their sails and are pursuing the possibility of erecting community-owned wind turbines.

Representatives from the city councils in Clara City, Maynard and Sacred Heart met Wednesday in Maynard with Thomas Wind, an electrical engineer and private wind power consultant from Jefferson, Iowa.

The three communities have agreed to ante up the funds needed to retain Wind -- his real name -- to help them evaluate the economic feasibility of erecting electricity-generating wind turbines.

If the project appears feasible, the consultant will help them carry it out as well.

"Is it going to work or not?'' Wind said that is the first question he would help answer for the three communities.


At this point no specific project is in mind, but the three communities have tossed out the idea of erecting three large wind turbines. Wind and members of the newly appointed committee representing the three communities discussed options ranging from placing one tower near each community to a single wind turbine farm.

The consultant told the representatives that investment in wind energy is growing rapidly, but that the economics favor ever-larger turbines. It would cost an estimated $2.5 million to erect and connect a 2-megawatt turbine to the electric grid, he said. The effort to exploit the zephyrs that sweep the prairies of Chippewa and Renville counties dates back to 2003. A 120-foot wind monitor tower was erected between Clara City and Maynard and collected data for 12 months.

An analysis of that data proved to be encouraging. It showed that a large 1.65-megawatt capacity turbine would be able to tap an average wind speed of 16.59 miles per hour and produce an estimated $175,000 worth of electricity each year. The estimate was based on selling the electricity generated by the tower at 3 cents per kilowatt hour. The analysis was completed by Paul Imbertson, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Computer Engineering, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and presented to the three communities in February 2004.That's where the project seems to have languished until this recent action to appoint a committee from the three communities and employ the consultant.

Committee members said their interest in the project is straightforward. They want to take advantage of a local resource to produce revenues for the communities, according to Rick Groothuis, mayor of Maynard.

He pointed out that Local Government Aid to the communities has been declining. LGA is a state program designed to helps cities with less property wealth provide services.

He and Mayor Kelly Martin of Sacred Heart also noted that residents in the three communities send all of their energy dollars to companies outside the region.

Why not take advantage of the local wind resource and plug the steady drain?

The answer to that question will depend on much more than having the wind at their backs. Wind said his first step will be to identify the locations near the communities where the best average wind speeds can be found.


Then, it becomes a matter of determining where it is most economical to plug into the electrical grid, and finding the best price for the electricity generated. Those factors, along with the costs of financing, will ultimately have as much or more influence on determining the economic feasibility of a project than the available wind in the area, he explained.

None of the communities has its own electric utility, but that should not prove an obstacle. Wind said that wind energy offers the best economic opportunity when it can be sold on the grid to a utility, rather than used in the communities to offset power now being imported.

He also told the communities that thanks to new state and federal laws, there are improved opportunities to sell and price their electricity, as well as finance their project. There are also opportunities to partner with large firms which can gain tax advantages through their involvement with renewable energy projects, he said.

Wind said he would investigate all of these opportunities for the communities and help provide a series of options for them to pursue.

He will report back to the committee in about one month with the first phase of the work, which will look at where best to locate turbines. Wind said his role will be to "lay everything out, and take you to the point where you can make your decision.''

Committee members are Mayor Kurt Koenen and Council Member Malanae Niemeyer of Clara City, Mayor Richard Groothuis and Council Member Gloria Sims of Maynard, and Sacred Heart Mayor Kelly Martin and Council Member Janet Krogfus.

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