The Murray County Commissioners spent Monday morning touring the Fenton Wind Tower project and Monogram Meats.
Weather cooperated as the group left the Murray County Government Center enroute to their first stop on the tour – the Fenton Wind Tower project near Chandler.
Upon arrival the commissioners were greeted by the enXco site representative Warren Grieves.
As the group traveled around the farm, Grieves talked about the process involved in the construction. He explained that the project is nearing completion and hopes they will be on line to produce power by October, 2007. When the project goes on-line depends on the construction of Xcel’s sub-station located just north of the project headquarters. Xcel hopes to be able to produce power by early September and four weeks later the wind farm will be able to put power back the other way.
Grieves boarded the bus and handed out hard hats and vests enroute to display the farm in various stages of construction.
Each turbine is erected piece by piece using manpower and cranes. When completed the turbine stands 382 feet from base to the tip of the highest blade.
The commissioners were able to inspect the pieces of the wind turbine as they lay on the ground waiting to be hoisted in place. Actually, according Grieves, they only have approximately 20 turbines to complete and on a good day can finish four to five.
The wind over the past month has slowed the process, but because construction continued through the winter months, the project is actually ahead of schedule. “This is the first time we’ve worked through the winter months,” said Grieves. “And the farmers who we have leased the land from for construction really appreciated this due to lessened crop damage.”
The $385 million wind farm project under construction in Murray and Nobles County consists of 137 wind turbines and will produce electrical energy estimated to be sufficient for more than 66,600 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 550,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, compared with equivalent fossil fuel generation. Construction of the wind farm is being managed by Mortensen Construction’s Energy Group out of Minneapolis.
More than 30 miles of gravel roads have been built to provide access to each of the turbine sights. Under those roads and fields are approximately 80 miles of power collection cable and a similar amount of control cable.
The foundation of each tower is 54’ x 54’ by 7.5’ deep which calculates into 240 yards of concrete or 25 truckloads. This translates into 3,425 loads of concrete. They were unloaded at a rate of about nine per hour according to Grieves.
In addition, the tower parts took 1,200 semis to get here. Almost all were over-sized requiring special permits.
The tower and blades made the trip from North Dakota while the machine heads – or nacelles – came out of Pensacola, Florida.
The wind farm consists of 137 General Electric 1.5 megawatt turbines and is located about 4.5 miles east of Edgerton on County Road 1 (21st Street). It stretches another seven miles in Murray County and is located in four townships.
The hub of the activity is a 12-acre village of cars, trucks and trailers located a mile off Hwy. 91, on 21st Street. The windtowers are being set up in a horseshoe in an area seven miles wide by seven miles deep, in Moulton and Fenton townships in Murray County and Leota and Wilmont townships in Nobles County. The project takes its name from Fenton township, where the project was originally to be located.
An average U.S. household uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity each year. One megawatt of wind energy can generate between 2.4 million and 3 million KWh annually. A megawatt of wind generates about as much electricity as 240-300 households use. Power from the Fenton project will be sold to Northern States Power, a subsidiary of Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, under a 25-year purchase agreement. The state of Minnesota, which ranks fourth among US states in terms of wind power installed, required Xcel to obtain 11 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015.
Nearly 80% of the labor force consists of specialists, but several local workers have been hired on in the process. The project has boosted the local economy, not only because of 154 employees, but also because most of the supplies needed for the project have been purchased locally.
The Fenton project has been in the works for several years. The first landowners were approached in 1999. Most projects take 2-5 years to complete, but this project was stalled back in 2003.
Before a wind farm project can be built, the company building the project has to secure the money from lenders or investors, or banks. In order to get those people on board, there has to be a way to guarantee that the prower they produce will be purchased.
This is where Xcel Energy comes in. They have agreed to purchase the power that is produced.
Although there seems to be an unending wind available, it cannot be the only power source. Currently, there is no good way to store excess electricity and is more expensive than traditional gas powered turbines.
EnXco, Inc. develops, constructs, operates and manages wind energy projects throughout the United States. The 205.5 mega-watt farm began construction in September, 2006.
In all, the project has been, and will continue to be, boost for the local economy. Circle B expansion project creates new jobs in Chandler
In addition to the wind farm tour, the commissioners were also treated to a tour of the expansion just completed at Monogram Meat Snacks in Chandler.
The added space is home to the new Circle B line of smoked sausage products. Circle B is a popular, value-priced brand that was packed in Wisconsin and is now packaged in Chandler. The $400,000 expansion project in addition has created nearly 40 new job opportunities for the plant.
The expansion was made possible as a result of a low-interest loan from the county and state.
The tour group was greeted by new vice president of operations, Jeff Johnson, and several others. The officials eagerly showed the commissioners how the products are ground, mixed, smoked and packaged.
Each member of the group was asked to don a hair bonnet, shoe socks and hard hat before the tour could begin. As they entered the food part of the tour each washed their hands and then put on a white jacket in preparation.
The tour was actually completed backwards starting with the packaging and ended in the freezer where the meats are kept.
Each room held a different part of the operation. In the first room the commissioners watched as employees packaged beef sticks and beef jerky. They also visited the spice room and walked through warm smoking room filled with several ovens sending the smoked flavors throughout the product.
As the group ventured further, officials explained how the raw product was mixed, using spices. The company has developed their own flavor and most of the spices are shipped in from Wisconsin in pre-packaged bags and then are dumped into the raw mixture.
Some of the product is shoved into casing while others is kippered and cut.
According to plant officials there is room for expansion and they are looking at other possibilities for the local site.
By Sheila Crowley, staff writer
20 June 2007
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