Winona County has been working for years on a $3.6 million wind energy development in Mount Vernon Township. And in recent weeks, the two turbines have been under construction, although the project is now completely private, with Winona County out $45,000.
The original plan was for a public and private partnership that would have included county ownership. For the first ten years, a county Economic Development Authority (EDA) LLC would have owned a small percentage of the turbines, then 90 percent thereafter, an ownership model dubbed the “Minnesota Flip.”
But after years of development plans and $150,000 in county dollars spent on the concept, it became clear last summer that it would be more lucrative for the private investor for the project to become totally private. Federal tax credits that don’t allow for public ownership proved more promising for the project, and an entity called Winona Wind Holdings purchased the LLC formed by the Winona County EDA, and the project moved ahead without public ownership. Winona County Economic Development Authority Director Linda Grover said that the registered agent of Winona Wind Holdings is an attorney based in Chicago, Ill. “And that’s as much as I know about who the investors are,” she said.
Winona County will be reimbursed by the developers for $99,000 in what the county has invested in the project, said Grover. But about $45,000 in county dollars spent on the project won’t, mostly expenses incurred early on as the county explored the concept.
The Winona County EDA will have the “first right to purchase” the twin turbine development, said Grover, an offer that will come in six or eight years, she said. While the EDA is given the purchasing rights, Grover said that it would not proceed with a purchase unless the County Board approved such a venture.
County leaders have, over the years, said that its role in the project was to help usher in wind energy investments in Winona County, and show that wind energy can work here. Grover, who has worked with complex development agreements and arrangements with utility companies on connecting to the grid for the project, now has knowledge that she can share with others interested in wind energy development in Winona County. “We’re happy to extend our experiences to anyone thinking of doing something similar,” she said.
After years of work on the development, Grover is happy to see a strong, viable project move ahead without a large financial risk for the county, and said she’s eagerly awaiting the day when she might see the blades spinning on the two towers. “It’s pretty amazing,” she said.
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