The Mower County Planning Commission has endorsed the first farmer-owned wind farm cooperative in Mower County.
It may also be one of the first wind energy ventures in the state by farmers who want to invest in producing electricity by wind energy and selling it themselves.
The key words are “farmer-owned.”
Already, Mower County has a half-dozen wind energy projects approved and by the end of summer more than 100 wind turbines will be erected across the county on farmland.
But none of them belong to the farmers on whose land they are built.
While farmers are paid to allow the giant wind turbines to be located on their land, their share of the profits are the smallest.
James Hartson said he hopes to change that.
“The farmers on whose land the turbines will be located will reap the profits,” Hartson said.
Hartson and his wife, Jean, obtained the Mower County Planning Commission’s endorsement Tuesday night to construct a meteorological tower in Section 24, Waltham Township.
If successful, the first giant wind turbines will be seen towering over the Waltham Road Cemetery from Highway 56.
Eugene Anderson, representing the Waltham Township Board, said the township officials had no objections to the Hartsons’ request.
The petitioner, Community Wind Development Group, Brigham Lake, still needs the Mower County Board of Commissioners’ formal approval of the conditional use permit request for the meteorological tower, but judging by the response the idea received at the Tuesday night county planning commission meeting, the county’s sixth wind energy project appears headed for success.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve the CUP request for the Hartsons. Jim Risius made the motion to rcommend approval and Harlan Peck seconded it before the unanimous vote of approval.
Six conditions were attached to the CUP request, including one requiring the top half of the tower to be painted in alternating red and white 10-foot segments.
In addition, each outside guy wire must be sleeved in 20-foot long plastic covers centered at 164 feet.
Lastly, the top of the towers are to be equipped with a night-time flashing red light.
“Building these towers is what I do and I have never seen a meteorological tower have to go through this process in the 30 years I’ve been doing this,” said Dan Juhl, the contractor retained to erect the tower when it is permitted.
Dave Tollefson, 5th District Mower County Commissioner and the non-voting chairman of the commission, tried to explain the condition was recommended by a former county commissioner who reasoned the meteorological towers could pose a safety hazard for crop dusters and helicopter pilots.
Daryl W. Franklin, county planner and zoning administrator, said the condition is only part of the commission’s recommendation and could be removed or otherwise changed by the county commissioners who have final authority to approve or reject the request.
James Hartson said wind farming is considered an agriculture practice and wondered why he even needed a CUP to engage in wind farming on land that is zoned for agriculture use. “Why do I even need a CUP? Why not be more farmer-friendly with something like this?” Hartson asked the commission members.
He pointed out there are existing wind towers in the county that stand 262 feet tall with 140-foot long blades that push their peak even higher. Those towers located in the eastern half of the county are not painted or sleeved like the new condition requested.
“I think we’re trying to solve a problem we don’t have,” Hartson said.
Tollefson said the Grand Meadow area towers are not in as busy a fly zone as the Waltham Township tower would be located.
Franklin said another meteorological tower has been permitted for a location 3 miles from the site of Hartson’s proposed tower and that it has the paint and sleeve condition.
Hartson said the tower has not been erected yet and that as far as his own tower is concerned, “We want to get this tower up as quickly as possible.”
A meteorological tower is needed to accumulate wind speed and other data necessary for determining the location and size of a wind farm of turbines.
“This is the first time I’ve every been asked to construct a tower that need to be lighted,” Juhl said.
Hartson said the flashing lights could by themselves become a safety hazard for pilots overhead.
Margaret Kirchner, vice chair of the commission, pointed out the county board added the paint and sleeve condition after the planning commission did not add it to its recommendation on the last CUP request.
Garry Ellingson, the former 5th District county commissioner, who lost the November 2006 election to Tollefson, convinced the county commissioners the paint and sleeve condition was needed.
Citing concerns expressed by a son-in-law, who is a crop-duster pilot, Ellingson was able to convince the county officials to add the condition to all future tower CUP requests.
No aircraft accidents related to a tower’s presence have occurred in Mower County. Neither have any formal complaints been filed by pilots, including the Mayo One helicopter service.
The Mower County Board of Commissioners will consider the planning commission’s recommendation, when they meet 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 10.
Austin Utilities is a member of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.
SMMPA is not ignoring alternative energy sources.
According to Jerry McCarthy, AU’s general manager, SMMPA already has invested in wind farms at Redwood Falls and the Fairmont-Wells area.
In addition, SMMPA is currently negotiating a contract with another unidentified wind energy developer.
McCarthy said one of the possible delays in seeing more wind energy projects developed is the demand for wind turbine equipment.
Currently, orders are 18 months behind delivery by the manufacturers.
By Lee Bonorden
28 June 2007
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