Morris campus dedicates turbine

The wind turbine is capable of supplying more than half of the campus's energy.

Than Tibbetts

MORRIS, Minn. – As a stiff, cold wind blew across the barren farm field, hundreds of farmers, faculty members, college students and school children gathered Friday to watch Morris’ tallest attraction in action.

The breeze was appropriate for Gov. Tim Pawlenty and University and local officials to dedicate a 230-foot wind turbine on Earth Day at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, just outside the University’s Morris campus.

“I’m proud to be governor of a state that leads the nation in renewable energy,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve said before that we want to become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.”

The turbine is part of the University’s initiatives for renewable energy on the Morris campus. It cost $1.8 million to build. Officials said that the turbine will pay for itself in 10 years and will last 25 years.

Already, the wind turbine is capable of supplying more than half of the Morris campus’s energy needs.

Tim Sanderson, a Vestas Wind Systems A/S service technician, the maker of the turbine, said it is capable of producing 1.65 megawatts when 29 mph winds blow across its 135-foot blades.

Eventually, energy from the wind turbine will be used to research hydrogen production.

Hydrogen gas is a clean fuel, and its only byproduct is water vapor. Officials said the wind turbine is a novel approach to creating hydrogen because producing hydrogen still requires fossil fuels.

The speakers told the crowd the Morris campus is becoming a hub for renewable energy research.

University Regent Clyde Allen Jr. said early research on ethanol began at the center. Now, Minnesota is the only state in the nation that mandates 10 percent of gasoline contain ethanol, which can be produced from corn.

Earlier this month, the State Legislature funded a biomass research and demonstration facility with its 2005 bonding bill.

The facility would convert corn stalks and other agricultural byproducts into a gas that would work like fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Facilities at the Morris campus are also experimenting with producing diesel-like fuel known as “biodiesel” from vegetable oils.

Event speakers promised cleaner energy and less reliance on foreign energy sources.

Morris Mayor Carol Wilcox proclaimed the brisk breeze to be “winds of opportunity and change.”

Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, told onlookers that wind turbines give rural Minnesotans independence from reliance on traditional electrical power methods.

“They call them ‘freedom towers’ in western Minnesota,” he said.

Nick Petersen, a political science junior and Morris Campus Student Association vice president for student services, said the wind turbine reflects the energy, enthusiasm and vision of that campus’ student body.

“The investment (in renewable energy) meets and exceeds our expectations as students,” he said.