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County mulls $20M wind farm

Acciona Windpower put together a $20 million, 6-megawatt, two-turbine project, and Cedar County officials last week began deliberating if it should go up in Mechanicsville or outside the county.

Raising questions about adverse health effects, the county’s Planning and Zoning commission last Wednesday delayed a vote to take 30 days to review an 80-page special use permit application and five industry, independent and government reports about health effects. The reports all generally conclude that there are no direct negative health effects from sound, “shadow flicker,” “blade glint” or electromagnetic radiation if the turbines are erected a certain distance from homes. Cedar County requires wind turbines to be at least 2,000 feet away from the nearest home.

Acciona would like to break ground in February or March and finish by May or June. The two turbines have the potential to produce enough electricity to power 1,500 to 1,800 homes.

Erin Hazen is a project development manager for parent company Acciona Energy and wrote the application.

The 3-megawatt turbines are already used abroad and North American customers are interested in buying them because they will make it feasible to build wind farms in less-windy places where smaller, 1.5 MW turbines will not work as well, she said.

The larger rotor diameters mean less wind is necessary to turn the blades, Hazen said.

But before many customers here will sign a contract, they want to see if the 3 MW versions – with the largest rotor-swept area in the industry – are any good. So the two turbines, once built, will be tested and, if they pass, certified by Germanischer Lloyd, a company which is to the wind industry what JD Power & Associates is to the car industry.

“Financiers and investors look to this for assurance that the product is a good product,” Hazen said. “It’s voluntary and would show the industry that this is a very high-quality machine.”

Mechanicsville is one of four possible locations Acciona is preparing for this project – the three others are wind farms already in existence or soon to be. But the Mechanicsville location is the company’s first choice because it is so close to its turbine manufacturing plant in West Branch.

“We want to stake our flag here,” Hazen said of Iowa.

The 3 MW turbine would also include concrete towers, another first in North America, she said. The 100-meter towers are less expensive and could be cast and built locally, rather than constructed in a distant plant and then transported. The company has built 80 turbines with concrete towers outside the United States.

Hazen said Acciona will connect to the electric grid owned by Central Iowa Power Cooperative, though Acciona is in negotiations with a couple of different entities to determine who will sell it.

The towers would be placed on the Steve Weets farm in rural Mechanicsville. They will be monitored remotely around the clock through Acciona’s West Branch, Chicago and Madrid, Spain, offices.

Any one of those locations can “shut down (the turbines) with a keystroke on the computer,” she said.

Once built, the wind turbines would stand more than 500 feet tall.

The plan to build a test site for the 3 MW turbines was announced at the American Wind Energy Association conference last year.

The West Branch plant has been producing 1.5 MW turbines since it opened in late 2007 and has the ability to upgrade to the 3 MW turbines should North American sales begin.