East Grand Forks could be home to a utility-scale wind turbine by the end of 2008, only the second in the northern Red River Valley.
Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, an electricity wholesaler that supplies half the city’s electricity, has plans to build a 1.5-megawatt turbine in each of its 11 member cities. The agencies other members are in southern and central Minnesota.
This would help the group meet state renewable energy objectives, which are expected to increase soon, according to Dan Boyce, general manager of the city’s Water and Light Department. He said federal subsidies will keep the cost of the project down and make it competitive with conventional power sources, such as coal.
In the long run, the power agency could realize savings from not having to pay for fuel, he said.
The only other large utility-scale wind turbine in the Grand Forks area is a 900-kilowatt machine erected by Minnkota Power Cooperative in 2002 near Petersburg, N.D. Most of that turbine’s output is purchased by Grand Forks Air Force Base.
The question for East Grand Forks now is where to put its turbine. The Water and Light Commission is recommending two locations, one near the bend on U.S. Highway 2 east of the Industrial Park and the other near Bert’s Truck Equipment.
At the same time, Northland Community and Technical College is beginning to investigate whether erecting its own wind turbine would make sense financially. President Anne Temte said the school is at least a year away from making any decision.
A wind turbine capable of producing 1.5 megawatts of electricity would be a very noticeable presence from the highway. Each of the three blades would be about a third the length of a football field; they sweep an area of about an acre. And that’s just the size of the blades; they turn atop a 200- or 300-foot tower.
As its name suggests, a 1.5-megawatt turbine can generate a maximum of 1.5 megawatts at optimal winds, though, normally, with varying wind conditions, it might generate only a third as much, according to Boyce. For comparison, peak demand in the city is about 29 megawatts.
The two locations the commission recommended are relatively isolated, which means there are no tall buildings to block the wind, and are near electrical substations, according to commission president Doug Gregoire.
The isolation also is desirable because, as the blades turn, they make a cyclic whooshing sound that would be noticeable to nearby residents.
Currently, East Grand Forks gets half of its power from the Western Area Power Administration, which runs hydroelectric turbines at Garrison Dam in N.D., and half from Minnesota Municipal, which gets its power from a variety of coal generators and gas turbines.
Having a wind turbine in town could mean that East Grand Forks would get some of its power from that turbine, though not in a direct way. Electricity from the turbine would go into Minnesota Municipal’s system and the city would buy it from the group.
For Northland, it would work a little differently, if the school decided to build a wind turbine.
Unlike the city, the school would probably own the turbine, selling the electricity generated to off-set its utility costs, President Temte said. So far, though, she said, school officials have only talked about an initiative at the state level to build turbines at state colleges and universities.
What’s good about owning the turbine is it could have students working on the machine as part of their technical education.
A wind energy program is already something Northland is looking to create, taking advantage of existing expertise in composite materials, the stuff that wind turbine blades are made of, and turbine engines, according to Temte.
If the school does start such a program, she said, it would be the first in northwestern Minnesota. She knows of only one other program, she said, at a technical college in the southwest.
By Tu-Uyen Tran
Herald Staff Writer
17 February 2007