Twelve Minnesota cities to get wind turbines

Small turbines aim to provide power on a local scale.

Tara Bannow

A federal program is helping provide wind power in cities that might otherwise not have it. Within the next few weeks, 12 Minnesota cities, including Anoka and Shakopee , will see the construction of wind turbines as part of a program called Hometown WindPower . The project is among several renewable energy ventures sponsored by Minnesota Municipal Power Agency , a federal utility company that âÄî like others âÄî is working to meet the stateâÄôs 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. âÄúHaving almost free financing for the project made it doable,âÄù Wally Wysopal, city manager of North St. Paul, one of the cities involved, said. The turbines are small âÄî about one-third the size of an average turbine âÄî and designed to provide power on a very local scale. They can generate 160 kilowatts of power at full force, or about 1 percent of the overall demand for an average city, said Dave Boyles, project manager for Avant Energy , the company chosen to manage the program. In North St. Paul, whose wind turbine is has been installed and will be operational in two weeks, about 106 homes will receive their power from wind energy, Wysopal said. âÄúThereâÄôs been a real excitement in town about it,âÄù he said. Like many cities within the state, Minneapolis falls within the territory of Xcel Energy , and thus cannot purchase utilities from a different supply company such as MMPA, Gayle Prest, the cityâÄôs sustainability manager , said. Although Minneapolis allows wind turbines, no one has produced a viable plan for developers, she said. âÄúThat doesnâÄôt mean it wonâÄôt happen in the future,âÄù she said. So far, six of the Hometown WindPower turbines have been installed and six more will be within the next couple of months, Boyle said. Each city will present a different set of circumstances in terms of holding public meetings, getting sites approved and dealing with local permits, he said. There have been a number of informational meetings in just about every city and no significant objections were voiced, he said. North St. PaulâÄôs turbine, which sits on a public works site adjacent to Highway 36 , has gotten a lot of positive feedback from locals who live nearby, Wysopal said. There were also negative comments regarding its appearance, concern over its environmental impact and the potential for damage from falling ice that accumulated on the blades, he said. Given that North St. Paul isnâÄôt as windy as other cities, it isnâÄôt an ideal location for investor-owned wind turbines, Wysopal said, but the financing the city received from MMPA made this particular project work. âÄúWe donâÄôt expect to see a lot more of these things going up,âÄù he said. The cities involved include Anoka, Arlington , Brownton , Buffalo , Chaska, East Grand Forks, Faribault, Le Sueur, North St. Paul, Olivia, Shakopee and Winthrop. While there are many wind turbines in other Minnesota cities, they are not affiliated with MMPA. Each wind turbine costs about $300,000 and is paid for by Clean Renewable Energy Bonds that are sold to investors. This project is significant because itâÄôs a step toward meeting the stateâÄôs renewable energy standard, Boyle said. It also illustrates an important commitment to renewable energy, he said. There are several issues slowing the potential for wind turbines in Minneapolis, including concern over bird migration. âÄúThe Mississippi River is a huge territory for fall and spring birds and we want to make sure if we didnâÄôt put up any large towers they wouldnâÄôt affect that,âÄù Prest said. The cityâÄôs tall buildings can also make for strange, unpredictable wind currents which can create barriers to harnessing wind energy, she said. Before the city goes ahead on a wind energy project, they want to make sure itâÄôs feasible, Prest said. âÄúWe want to make sure it actually works,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs not just this glossy, sexy thing âĦ If it doesnâÄôt work properly, itâÄôs more of a status symbol.âÄù