Turbines will soon churn in 11 Minnesota cities

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2009 - 5:30 PM

Refurbished windmills will start to be set up this summer to meet a state electricity law.

Recycled turbines that turn renewable wind energy into electricity are expected to begin appearing this summer in Anoka, Buffalo, North St. Paul and eight other Minnesota cities that are part of a power agency.

Buffalo, which expects work to begin in June, is likely to be the first city with one of the 115-foot-tall turbines among the 11-member cities of the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA). The joint-powers agency has agreed to pay about $3.6 million for a dozen refurbished windmills that were used in a Palm Springs, Calif., wind farm. The Hometown WindPower program is aimed at meeting a state law requiring most electrical utilities to provide 25 percent of their total electricity sales from renewable sources, such as wind or water power, by 2025.

Shakopee, North St. Paul and Buffalo have picked sites for the 160-kilowatt windmills, officials said.

"I want be ready by June 1 to start doing foundation work," said Buffalo utilities director Joe Steffel.

The City Council approved a windmill permit last week. The turbine will be erected near Buffalo High School, which will use it to teach about renewable energy, Steffel said.

Chaska and Anoka have tentative sites. Anoka leaders gave preliminary approval to a wind turbine ordinance, but park board approval is needed for the tentative site, which is near Sunny Acres Park just north of Hwy. 10.

A waste of money?

Anoka Mayor Phil Rice expects the windmill will go up, but calls it a taxpayer-subsidized waste of money that will never cover the windmill costs.

"In my mind it is foolishness," Rice said. "The government is mandating it, and we will comply so we don't have to pay a fine." He added, "We have to try to develop green energy, and we need to be willing to fail a few times."

Dave Boyles, the WindPower project manager, said that traditional fossil fuel or nuclear-generated electricity is now cheaper than wind power but that those fuel costs are likely to rise, making windmills more competitive over their 20-year lifetime.

He said that in return for tax subsidies, citizens "will be getting a reliable source of renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change and has no carbon footprint."

The 11 cities are at various stages of getting permits and site approvals, and all are expected to erect windmills by year's end, officials said.

The windmills will provide a small share of each city's power needs, from less than 1 percent to 10 percent, depending on how many customers a city serves, Boyles said. Studies were done for the 11 cities to ensure they have strong and frequent enough wind for effective power generation, he said.

Sites on free, public land

North St. Paul hopes to install a windmill in July on a site by its public works garage south of Hwy. 36, said city manager Wally Wysopal.

Wysopal chairs the MMPA board. He said the board, made up of city representatives, approved Hometown WindPower.

"We are very pleased to be in a position to soon offer alternative, renewable energy in each one of the communities," Wysopal said. He said the only cost to the 11 cities is providing windmill sites, most of which are likely to be on free, public land. The other member cities are Arlington, Brownton, East Grand Forks, Le Sueur, Olivia and Winthrop.

The agency will buy the dozen windmills for about $300,000 each from enXco Services Corp., which is rebuilding them in Palm Springs to last another 20 years, Boyles said. The 12th windmill will be installed by the agency's Faribault natural gas power plant.

The Danish-built turbines should be ready by May, Boyles said. The agency will pay for them with the proceeds from selling renewable energy bonds, which give tax credits to bond holders in lieu of interest, he said. The bonds will be repaid by electricity charges the 11 cities bill their customers.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658

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