The road to the development of wind energy in Kandiyohi County is paved with giant tasks: Finding investors. Doing a wind study. Doing a study of energy transmission lines. Negotiating power contracts.
Local organizers believe it’s feasible, however – and they’re taking initial steps to explore it further.
The waters were tested at a meeting Friday, sponsored by the agribusiness and renewable energy committee of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
“Alternative energy, specifically wind, is one of the projects we’ve been working on for several months now,” said Bob Meyerson, who heads the committee’s wind energy initiative.
Meyerson said the goal is to form a local group that can pursue the development of wind energy production in Kandiyohi County.
“We hope to push forward in some manner on some schedule,” he said.
The 50-some people who attended Friday’s meeting received a glimpse of what might lie ahead.
Guest speaker Mark Willers, CEO of Minwind Energy of Luverne, spent more than an hour talking and fielding questions about how Minwind Energy was formed and how it operates.
Minwind started operating its first turbines in 2002.
The process is lengthy and it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, Willers warned the group.
“Wind is a totally different investment than ethanol. Wind is a commodity we need to sell to a market that has people,” he said. “You have to understand what kind of investment you’re going to get into.”
One of the earliest steps is to form a core group of organizers, he said. It’s also important to make early decisions about the ownership structure, the size of the project and the number of investors.
Seed capital will be necessary to study the transmission lines and determine where wind energy can be added to the grid. Contracts also must be obtained to sell the power that’s generated by the wind turbines.
All of this could take many months. A power contract alone could take 10 to 18 months to negotiate, Willers said.
“Those are the kinds of things you’re going to have to put in place if you want to move this forward,” he said.
Members of the audience peppered Willers with detailed questions. They wanted to know how long it takes to do a transmission study. They wondered about the supply of trained workers to maintain the turbines. They asked about what’s happening in the Minnesota Legislature to support the wind power industry.
Willers also gave the group an overview of the anatomy of a wind turbine, from the base to the rotor hundreds of feet up in the air.
Less than one percent of the electricity used in the United States is generated by wind, but many experts believe there’s potential for wind to capture up to 20 percent of this market.
In the Midwest, it could be as high as 25 percent, Willers said.
But wind power has to be financially feasible if it’s to continue developing, he said. “I’m a realist. I believe these things have to make money.”
By Anne Polta
West Central Tribune
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