A Mower County resident is seeking to build what he calls the first farmer-owned wind farm in the region.
James Hartson, a farmer in Waltham Township, along with his wife, Jane, got support for an initial step Tuesday night from the county’s Planning Commission.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend the Mower County Board approve a conditional-use permit for the Hartsons to build a meteorological tower on vacant farm land, east of Minnesota Highway 56. It will gather data for a potential wind farm.
Community Wind Development Group, based in Bingham Lake, Minn., is the petitioner for the tower. It mainly focuses on assisting communities, farmers and small businesses with renewable energy projects, according to its Web site.
The county board will hear the request July 10.
Mower County hosts two wind farms with nearly 60 wind turbines. A project by Horizon Wind Energy is under way to build 61 turbines in Bennington, Clayton, Grand Meadow and Marshall townships.
On Monday, Xcel Energy filed a request with the state to build and own a 100-megawatt wind farm also in the Grand Meadow area. The proposed wind farm would be the first owned by Xcel in Minnesota and have 67 wind turbines in Grand Meadow, Clayton and Pleasant Valley townships.
Dan Juhl, one of Community Wind’s four founding partners, attended Tuesday’s meeting and questioned a new condition created by the county board in early May related to meteorological towers.
To help with visibility for aircraft, the tower’s top half must be painted red and white in 10-foot segments and have a flashing red light. Guy wires also must have red and white sleeves.
Juhl, who has been involved in renewable energy for nearly 30 years and helped form public policy for it, said Mower County’s new condition is the first he has heard for a tower.
The board added the condition in May while approving a similar conditional-use permit for another wind-energy project. The board heard concerns about aircraft – medical helicopters and crop dusters – not seeing the towers, which are smaller than 200 feet.
Federal aviation officials say the towers don’t have to be lit or specially painted at that height, which seems to be good enough, said Dave Tollefson, a county board member and chairman of the planning commission.
Tollefson, who supported the condition in a May board vote, said Tuesday night that “maybe it was an overreaction on our part.”
It’s illegal to fly under 500 feet, Juhl said.
James Hartson said he thinks the county is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and he doesn’t want anything to delay things.
The commission emphasized that the county board will have the final say.
In May, the board required Renewable Energy Systems to do the visibility work for a similar tower in Sargeant Township. Depending on the wind data collected, the project’s officials have said it could lead to more than 100 wind turbines in northern Mower.
By Tim Ruzek
28 June 2007
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