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Is harnessing wind possible in Kandiyohi County?

Is a wind energy project possible for Kandiyohi County? A group called Whirlwind Energy LLC has formed to find out if a 20-megawatt wind project could be located within the county.

Bob Meyerson, president of Atwater State Bank, and chief manager of Whirlwind, says the limited liability corporation has formed, is leasing land for wind development and has commissioned a meteorological study to analyze wind conditions in the county. Meyerson presented information about the budding “big wind” project Thursday to the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce public policy committee. His interest in wind started with his connections to the banking industry, as bankers were looking for ways for farmers to augment their income.

Meyerson purchased his own small wind turbine a few years ago, and he’s served on the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission’s agriculture committee. That committee studied wind energy opportunities in the county and developed a “small wind” guide, printed twice over the past two years.

The members also realized the magnitude of a larger “big wind” system.

“There’s a vast divide between small wind systems and a utility-sized system,” he said.

The EDC committee spun off a “big wind” committee, which in turn, morphed into Whirlwind Energy. The LLC continues to seek investors, he said.

“The best wind is on Buffalo Ridge, but we think we have a couple of advantages in Kandiyohi County,” Meyerson said.

The state is doing a study to examine the capacity of smaller electrical transmission lines across the state. While the main transmission lines are full, especially around the extensive wind farms on Buffalo Ridge in southwest Minnesota, there may be capacity on those smaller, 69-kilovolt lines that the wind project can use to transmit power.

The county also has a number of people who wish to move ahead with the project, even though they do not know if or when there will be a financial return, he said.

The risk is significant, because hundreds of thousands of dollars need to be spent on attorneys and regulatory work before the group even knows if the wind is significant enough to warrant the project.

Another key is negotiating a contract with a utility, Meyerson said. The long-term, 20-year contracts need to be researched thoroughly to make sure price is right for return on investment.

Wind energy is also very dependent on the political winds – the country’s federal wind energy production credit comes up for renewal every three years. Whether the next president will favor the renewal is still to be seen.

“They give it lip service,” Meyerson said. “I don’t know how they will support it.”

By Gretchen Schlosser

West Central Tribune

7 June 2008