Wind power turbines are going up in five metro cities, with Anoka set to get one on Monday, as a multi-city consortium moves forward with plans to use recycled windmills to generate renewable energy.
In Anoka, the 115-foot-high white structure will rise just north of Anoka High School, following on the heels of windmills recently erected in Buffalo and North St. Paul.
The cities are among the 11 members of the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA), which bought the refurbished windmills for $300,000 each from Palm Springs, Calif.
Elsewhere, Chaska began pouring a concrete pad on Friday for its windmill by Pioneer Trail Middle School, and Shakopee planning officials approved a windmill permit on Thursday.
All 11 city windmills are expected to be up and producing power by year's end, said Dave Boyles of Avant Energy, the agency's wind project manager. The energy will be sold to residents and others.
Although the 160-kilowatt turbines will fill only 1 percent or less of local power needs, they will help MMPA members meet a state requirement that most utilities provide at least 12 percent of their electricity sales from renewable resources by 2012. That proportion will increase to 25 percent by 2025.
The Anoka decision
In Anoka, the decision to move ahead had its detractors. City Council Member Mark Freeburg voted against the plan, saying the windmill doesn't make economic sense because the power costs more to produce than electricity from nuclear or coal-fired power plants.
"If this was only for energy, it's a waste of money," said Mayor Phil Rice, who initially opposed the proposal. But the windmills can be useful, he said, as educational or promotional tools for green energy and may spur development of more-efficient energy technology. "We need to invent a better way to produce power than we are currently," Rice said.
The MMPA sold $3.6 million in low-interest bonds for the turbines, to be repaid by customers of the member cities. The other members are Arlington, Brownton, East Grand Forks, Le Sueur, Olivia and Winthrop.
Wind speed and power
The turbines, expected to last 20 years, begin producing energy when the wind blows at 8 miles an hour, Boyles said. They produce a full 160 kilowatts at wind speeds of about 24 miles an hour, a velocity that occurs about 20 percent of the time, according to area wind studies, he said. At full power, a 160-kilowatt windmill generates enough electricity for about 100 homes, Boyles said.
These windmills are much shorter than the 1- or 2-megawatt turbines on wind farms. Those big towers have attracted some complaints about noise, vibration, flickering blade shadows and impact on bats and migrating birds, said Bob Cupit, manager of energy facility permits for the state Public Utilities Commission. He said he hadn't heard any complaints about 160-kilowatt windmills, but the commission is collecting information on possible impacts.
The windmills in Anoka and Buffalo are near high schools and will provide power to the buildings. Students will study the operations, officials said.
The Anoka windmill will sit by a pedestrian bridge that carries Anoka High School students over Bunker Lake Boulevard to the Rum River Library. The turbine is expected to generate more than 300 megawatts a year, enough electricity for 40 of the 10,000 households the Anoka utility serves, including some in Champlin, said Dan Voss, electric utility director.
Some Buffalo residents opposed the windmill because of its relatively high generation costs, but high school students like the renewable energy idea, said city utilities director Joe Steffel.
"It's in its infancy. It takes time to develop that technology," Steffel said. "I remember when gas cost 25 cents a gallon. Those days are gone. Our resistance is because of cheap energy and an abundance of it. As that goes away, wind will become more and more attractive."
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658