November 12, 2007

Wind turbines become part of landscape

DODGE CENTER – The giant shadows swoop rhythmically across the ground like a scene from a Hitchcock movie.

Roughly every four seconds, a 131-foot rotor blade completed a revolution atop one of the 41 turbines here at McNeilus Wind Farm on a windy autumn afternoon. Shadows danced across the yard of the company’s headquarters 11/2 miles south of Dodge Center on Minnesota Highway 56. But the U.S. flag snapping in the breeze – and the wind itself, howling in your ears – made more noise than the turbines, which the company says can generate enough electricity to power 22,000 homes.

On this day, according to an average of readings from atop all of the turbines, the wind was blowing 11.8 meters per second, a company spokeswoman said.

“This is better than average,” she said of the westerly wind, which kicked up leaves, dirt and dust from Dodge County’s gravel crossroad a mile or so down the highway.

They’re accustomed to the wind at the home of David and Judy Livingston, who live 11/2 miles south of the McNeilus office.

And they’ve learned to accept the surrounding turbines that dominate the horizon as you step outside the back door of the farmhouse where they have lived for more than 40 years.

“It’s what you get used to,” David Livingston said.

Wind farms are sprouting up on farmlands throughout southeastern Minnesota as power demands and government policies encourage them.

David Livingston’s dad, Melbourn Livingston, bought the farm in 1944. David Livingston bought the 160 acres from his dad in 1965 and sold all but 15 acres of it to Garwin McNeilus in 1998.

“Garwin came along and offered me, at the time, top money for the land,” Livingston said.

Today – with his son-in-law, Brad Dohrmann, and another partner, Bruce Freerksen – Livingston has 60 head of Limousin cows and calves. The cattle graze, undisturbed, by the turbines

There are other benefits to living in the turbines’ shadows. For one thing, Dohrmann said with a smile, the family always knows which way the wind is blowing.

Earlier this year, the farmers chopped corn around one of the towers – and got to keep the silage – so that crews could bring in a crane to take down and repair a broken rotor blade. “It didn’t cost us a thing,” he said.

Lots of people still ask Livingston questions about the turbines. More dangerously, motorists gawk while driving by at 55 mph or stop along the side of the road to take pictures.

“I’ve had more close calls with people looking at them on the highway,” Livingston said.

By Chris Steinbach


11 November 2007

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