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Utility company reluctance stalls Minnesota wind farm

A wind farm that was to be the first such large-scale operation in central Minnesota is about a year behind schedule.

Edina-based Geronimo Wind Energy has the necessary permits to build the 95-megawatt wind farm – but the company hasn’t been able to find a utility company willing to buy its energy.

Geronimo spokesman Charlie Daum attributed the delay to a slow market.

“That’s really the only thing that’s holding us back right now,” Daum said, adding that the situation was “not a concern as much as a frustration.”

By now, as many as 60 turbines, each about 400 feet high, were supposed to be scattered across fields north of Paynesville, producing electricity and income for local farmers, according to a story in the St. Cloud Times. Geronimo planned to put up the turbines this year and expected them to be generating electricity between July and September, but progress stalled as the company failed to secure a buyer for the power.

Geronimo has sought buyers inside and outside Minnesota, and Daum said it was surprising that utilities didn’t seem eager to lock in long-term contracts to secure power at today’s low prices.

Some reports have suggested the young wind industry is losing momentum. Turbine manufacturer Suzlon Wind Energy Corp. cut 110 jobs at its Pipestone factory two years ago, and other companies have had difficulty securing credit in the financial downturn.

One state official disagreed. Department of Commerce spokesman Matt Swenson said companies are still looking to take advantage of a federal tax credit for wind development that expires in 12 months.

More than 500 megawatts of wind power were installed last year in Minnesota, the most in a single year in state history, Swenson said.

Geronimo has already signed an agreement to sell power from a separate wind farm to Xcel Energy, utility spokesman Tom Hoen said. That power, from the 200-megawatt Prairie Rose Wind Farm in southern Minnesota, will help Xcel meet a 2007 state standard requiring the utility to derive 30 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2020.

Xcel’s latest resource plan said the utility will continue to explore opportunities to procure more wind-generated power before the tax credit expires. However, the plan adds, “While we are eager to obtain low-priced, cost-effective wind generation for our customers, we seek to avoid the risks of incomplete or failed projects.”

Despite the uncertainty over the Paynesville project, Daum said Geronimo is continuing its preliminary planning work so the company will be ready to build right away.

“We think it’s a great project,” he said. “We really do want to get it built.”