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Macalester will soon decide on a massive off-campus wind turbine project  

Purchasing wind turbines seems to be the popular move for campuses across Minnesota. Following in Macalester’s footsteps, Carleton and St. Olaf built 1.65 Megawatt turbines on their campus properties in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Macalester installed an urban wind turbine on campus April 23, 2003.

In the next few weeks, David Wheaton, Vice President for Administration and Finance, will decide whether Macalester will purchase a second wind turbine that would be located in Stevens County, in western Minnesota.

The proposed wind turbine, a Suzlon 88 model, would dwarf Macalester’s current turbine located on the south side of Olin Rice in both size and energy generation. One of the blades of the new model would be about the same length as the entire height of the on-campus wind turbine.

Macalester’s current turbine can generate up to 10 Kilowatts of power working at top speed–the new model would be able to produce up to 2 Megawatts, or 200 times more energy. Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09, a member of MacCARES, said that this amount is equivalent to about 40 percent of all the electricity the college uses.

The new Macalester turbine will be different from the St. Olaf and Carleton turbines not only because it will be bigger, but also because the power that is generated from it will not directly offset Macalester’s energy usage.

“In both of those cases,” Wheaton said, “it was about their own needs. We couldn’t do what they did because we have houses on every side of us. We are interested in the financial incentive.”

The turbine will be partially financed through Macalester’s newly formed Clean Energy Revolving Fund (CERF). This fund has received $20,000 from Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) and $7,000 from the Environmental Studies department. Another $40,000 has been promised on an as-needed basis by President Brian Rosenberg. The fund’s goal is to invest in sustainability projects, like the wind turbine, with the savings returned back into the fund. CERF is managed by two student representatives, a faculty advisor, a Macalester college trustee, an alumnus, and a member of the administration.

Ultimately, Macalester will pay about $30,000 for the turbine, which is only about one percent of the total cost. The rest will be funded by a local utility, which will take advantage of Minnesota’s Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) bill. This legislation, which was passed in 2005, supports community-based wind projects by getting utilities to back them financially.

Because the utility will pay the bulk of the up-front costs, it will get most of the return on the money from the energy sold back to the grid. This will continue for the first seven to 12 years, or until the utility makes its target return on the investment. Macalester will receive only 1 percent of the return until then.

However, after the utility has met its target, ownership of the turbine will flip, and Macalester will then receive most of the profit.

Though the final decision has yet to be made about whether Macalester will actually purchase the wind turbine, Wheaton said that he was, “intrigued by the idea of having helped make possible a wind turbine in Minnesota.”

He said that negotiations with legal council are underway. “I want to understand the underlying risks before making a decision” he said.

Jeff Paulson, a lawyer working with Macalester to obtain the turbine, said that about 75 C-BED projects are already operating across Minnesota. He suggested that the new Macalester turbine would earn between $20,000 and $25,000 back for Macalester within the first year. However, the Macalester turbine has yet to secure a utility investor.

The college also has to be careful because of the liability issues associated with erecting a turbine.

“One thing that has happened, rarely,” Environmental Studies professor Chris Wells, who is the advisor of CERF, said “is a construction worker has been killed. If something went wrong, then the college could be sued. Mac has to be insulated from that chance.”

To prevent this, CERF has become a limited liability corporation, or LLC, which means that in the event that something were to happen, Macalester could only be responsible for the original $30,000 that the college put into the project.

Support for this wind turbine has come from many places on campus, but mostly from students themselves. The Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society (MacCARES) has provided the momentum behind the project, including the idea of creating CERF.

“It was [Den Herder-Thomas] and Asa [Diebolt ’09] who came to me last year with the idea of CERF,” Wells said. “They secured the money from MCSG.”

If all goes according to plan, the turbine would be built within the next year.

For more information on C-BED, visit www.c-bed.org.

By Anna Waugh
Staff Writer

themacweekly.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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