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Board decides to nix turbine in Medina

The Hennepin County Board last week pulled the plug on the county’s attempts to get into the wind energy business.

Saying there were too many unanswered questions surrounding the project and too little time to explore them, commissioners unanimously declined to start negotiations with Olson Energy Corp. to build and operate a 400-foot wind turbine at the county’s public works facility in Medina. Such a turbine generates 5 million kilowatt hours a year, enough to power about 700 typical homes.

Minneapolis-based Olson was one of two companies that submitted proposals to the county for the contemplated $3.5 million wind-energy system. County officials wanted to bring in a private partner to take advantage of tax breaks to build and operate the turbine for several years before turning it over to the county.

Advocates said the turbine would contribute to green energy and cut into the county’s annual $7 million electric bill. However, commissioners expressed concerns that the county had only a short time to negotiate a deal before the mid-November construction permit deadline, and that only two companies had expressed interest.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Mark Stenglein, county Environmental Services Director Carl Michaud said that Olson has not yet built any turbines. “What happens if Olson goes out of business? Are we the proud owners of a turbine?” Stenglein asked.

“I think the time has come to put a stop to this one,” said Board Chair Mike Opat. “There’s only one viable respondent, and that respondent has never done one of these before.”

Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, the project’s leading booster, was not on hand for the vote. He was attending a conference on transit and development in Portland, Ore.