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Minnesota Public Utilities panel gives the go-ahead on Mt. Iron project

Minnesota Power’s Taconite Ridge wind turbine project is blowing ahead.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission last Tuesday approved a 30-year site permit for the $50 million project to operate, essentially giving the last major regulatory green light to the proposed plan.

The wind turbine farm will be on U.S. Steel’s Minntac property, with ten turbines on towers generating up to 25 megawatts of power at fall capacity. It is being built by Minnesota Power as part of the state Legislature’s mandate that 25 percent of power be generated by alternative means such as wind, hydro and biomass by 2025.

Early fall and some winter construction may result in operations commencing as early as next April, officials have said.

The Taconite Ridge site will be in an east-west line “along the Laurentian Divide at 1,600-1,850 feet above sea level,” the PUC’s permit report said.

Wind tests conducted in the project area revealed that wind speeds at the height of the rotor blades will be between about 14-19 mph, with an average annual speed of 17 mph.

It is the first project of its kind in Northeastern Minnesota. Power generated by the wind turbines would go into Minnesota Power’s grid and would be utilized by the company, but is expected to generate power about a third of the time, documents said. Some construction work will be generated and three MP employees would work at the site.

The structures will certainly catch residents’ attention once built. A turbine tower will have its hub at about 262 feet high, with blades 153 feet long and a total radius of about 315 feet. Lights flashing for aircraft will be mounted on several towers.

“The turbine towers and rotor blades will be prominent features of the landscape,’’ the PUC permit report said. “The turbines will be visible from Mountain Iron and Virginia and from the Superior National Forest,’’ as well as by passing motorists on nearby highways.

A public hearing held July 11 in Virginia on the project drew a few persons and only one comment on the towers’ aesthetics. A public comment period that ended Aug. 1 drew only four comments, two from MP and only one concern about the towers’ effect on raptor species on Lookout Mountain, to the northeast. The report said effects to wildlife would be minimal.

While some minimal road work construction and concrete and steel bases for the towers will result in some tree or brush displacement, “no harmful air or water emissions are expected from the construction and operation” of the wind farm, the report said.

A storm water run-off permit will be needed from the state pollution control agency, while noise pollution would only be about 30 decibels at the nearest residence, more than a mile away.

Mountain Iron Mayor Gary Skalko said Sunday that in conversations during the summer with MP officials, it was clear “they are intending to go full speed’’ with the project. An MP official did not return a call to a cell phone Sunday seeking comment.

Skalko said the project was part of the future for energy on the Range. “It’s exciting to be in the forefront with that,’’ he explained, as it is “just the tip of the iceberg with renewable energy.’’

By Charles Ramsay

Mesabi Daily News

16 September 2007