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Winona County celebrates a true windfall  

Winona County’s proposed $3 million wind turbine just got a whole lot cheaper.

The county learned recently it is eligible to receive up to $3.2 million in no-interest federal bonds, which would shave off more than $100,000 from the total project cost and provide the financing to build the turbine. The bonds can be paid off with revenue from selling the electricity the turbine generates.

The bonds, known as Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, are awarded by the Internal Revenue Service to an array of renewable energy projects, including solar, biomass and wind.

The IRS funded 610 projects this year – more than 100 wind-based – ranging from large wind farms to single turbines. The county came in at the top of government borrowers; requested amounts ranged from $23,000 to $3.2 million.

“This is what we’ve been waiting a very, very long time for,” said Winona County Commissioner Dwayne Voegeli at Tuesday’s board meeting. “It makes what was already a good project into a better project.”

The county’s Economic Development Authority, which has spearheaded the project, applied for the bonds in April but wasn’t sure whether it would receive them because of competition.

“It was one of the financing options we’d always looked at as a possibility, but until we got this approval, it was a little too lucrative to count on,” said Linda Grover, head of the EDA.

The EDA is close to finalizing an agreement with Xcel Energy over how much the power company will pay for electricity the turbine generates, and is finishing up other project details, Grover said. The financing plan for the turbine hasn’t been finalized; project backers have explored a number of options, including a combination of public and private investments.

The bonds are the latest in a string of positive financial news for project backers. The power contract is expected to generate revenue of about $6 million over 20 years, and the county received a $200,000 state grant last year for the project.

When the planning is complete, which Grover expects in the next few months, the county board will be asked to give final approval to the turbine. The plan is to build it in Mount Vernon Township, identified as the township with the strongest winds in the county.

Reporter Brian Voerding can be reached at (507) 453-3514 or bvoerding@winonadailynews.com


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