Working for wind power

WILLMAR -- Establishing a renewable energy corridor that would stretch from Willmar to Fergus Falls may be what's needed to provide the financial incentive for communities to build wind farms or biomass/biofuel facilities.

WILLMAR -- Establishing a renewable energy corridor that would stretch from Willmar to Fergus Falls may be what's needed to provide the financial incentive for communities to build wind farms or biomass/biofuel facilities.

The Kandiyohi County Agribusiness and Renewable Energy Committee heard about the idea at its meeting Wednesday and agreed to get involved with efforts to gain legislative approval for the corridor. They will host a meeting with area counties in Willmar to discuss ways to establish the corridor.

The committee has set a goal of creating a biobased economy in Kandiyohi County by 2015 and has been trying to pursue projects to make that happen. Through the process, the committee members have learned about the opportunities and pitfalls of building and operating various alternative fuel facilities.

The idea for the corridor was floated by Mike Reese, director of renewable energy at the University of Minnesota's West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris. He spoke to the committee Wednesday. He said having a special corridor that would provide economic incentives to rural Minnesota communities could help launch projects that otherwise might not begin.

Besides providing alternative energy that would be good for the environment, Reese said renewable energy projects would also provide economic development opportunities for rural communities.


The corridor would function like a Job Opportunity Building Zone by providing various financial incentives for constructing facilities that would generate alternative energy by using agricultural or natural resources. JOBZ is a state program that gives qualifying businesses certain tax breaks until 2015.

The state already has a special biotechnology and medical genomics corridor in the Rochester and Twin Cities area.

Reese also talked about the West Central Research and Outreach Center's renewable energy projects that include a 1.65-megawatt hybrid wind turbine that supplies 60 percent of the University's electrical needs. A biomass gasification system that will use primarily corn stover will go on-line next year and plans are in place to build a "green" building that will use energy efficiently. The projects are designed to serve as working demonstration models.

The Kandiyohi County committee has been exploring a variety of alternative energy options in the past two years, with a strong focus first on a methane digester, gradually shifting to wind energy.

Reese agreed with that new direction. He said the "cookie cutter" technology, the available wind in Minnesota and positive economics made wind energy a good project to pursue and would help the county meet its 2015 bioenergy goal.

Bob Meyerson, a committee member who has installed his own small wind turbine, said an assessment of resources indicates there are three geographical areas in Kandiyohi County where turbines would work based on wind and accessibility to power lines to carry the electricity. They are in the northwest and northeast corners of the county as well as an area near Svea in the southern half of the county.

The committee wants to have contact with property owners in those areas to see if there is interest in using property for wind turbines.

Reese praised Kandiyohi County for being "a long way" in the process. He said communities need leaders to "step forward" to make projects happen.


Following a discussion among committee members on whether removing corn stalks to use in gasification plants was a good thing for renewable energy or a bad thing for organic levels in farm fields, Steve Renquist, director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, asked if the committee was going to look for ways to pursue renewable energy project or look for ways not to do it.

"Is it just lip service?" he asked.

Renquist said the committee had to make renewable energy "our holy grail" in order to meet the 2015 bioenergy goal.

In other action the committee:

- Discussed holding a workshop in November with Dr. Blair Henry, a consultant, about the need to have community leaders working together to develop renewable energy in the county.

- Accepted the resignation of Renae Shields as a contract worker for renewable energy projects.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
What To Read Next
Get Local