ROLLAG, Minn. – The 32 wind turbines and their broad, whirling blades stand tall on heights of land that once defined the shores of glacial Lake Agassiz.
Exploiting winds that buffet the hills near Rollag in Clay County and a small corner of Becker County, the towers pump nearly 50 megawatts of power onto the regional electrical grid via a substation in Otter Tail County.
The power is purchased by a consortium of utilities in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Before the towers went up and started generating electricity this past spring, landowners in the Rollag area signed leases with Lakeswind Power Partners, which is owned by Rockland Capital, a company based in Texas.
Terms of the leases are confidential, but Shane Litts, a partner at Rockland Capital, said the agreements are long term and landowners receive payments for allowing the towers on their property.
He said the area was chosen for the wind park primarily for three reasons: availability of wind, proximity to transmission systems and a community that was generally welcoming to the idea of a wind farm.
“Not all places are optimal for all of those reasons, but in this instance transmission was good, community support was good and the wind resource itself was good,” Litts said.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued the permit for the wind farm, though Clay County had some oversight when it came to things like road improvements that were necessary to construct the towers, said Tim Magnusson, Clay County director of planning and environmental programs.
Magnusson said the county has heard from a few people who don’t like the towers and the sounds they make, but he said in general the project has generated few comments.
The state also has not heard any major complaints, according to the Public Utilities Commission.
Tim Zepper, whose home is within about a mile of five of the wind towers, said that while the towers, which rise to a height of more than 262 feet, are not a big problem for his family, they do generate sounds that can be annoying at times.
“I step outside, I can hear ’em. I have the windows open at night, I can hear ’em,” Zepper said, adding that the noises the towers make can vary.
“If it’s relatively calm, you can hear the mechanical (noises). If it’s windy, you can hear the wind going across the blades; it’s a ‘woomp, woomp’ noise,” said Zepper, who lives about 4 miles south of Rollag.
In addition to the sounds, Zepper said the wind turbine blades cause flickering shadows as the sun goes down, though he said that doesn’t usually last very long.
Other individuals with property interests in the area were unhappy with the wind towers but declined to talk on the record about their concerns.
Zepper said he isn’t privy to details of the lease arrangements some neighbors made with Lakeswind, but he said he’s heard of payment figures in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $8,000 a year, plus a small percentage of proceeds from the sale of energy.
On the issue of noise, Litts acknowledged the towers generate some sounds, but he said the project hasn’t had “really any issues in respect to that.”
And while wind farms sometimes make the news for their impact on flying creatures, Litts said with Lakeswind, “No issues have arisen regarding birds and bats.”
While Lakeswind was securing its permit, another wind project called Noble Flat Hills, also secured a permit to put up towers in Clay County.
That project envisions about 135 wind turbines going up in an area north of Highway 10, south of Clay County Road 26 and west of State Highway 9.
But no towers have been erected, and it’s unclear if the project will happen, Magnusson said.
A message left with a representative for the company holding the permit for the wind farm was not returned.
Clay County officials say the Lakeswind project will pay an annual wind energy tax of about $150,000.
The county plans to earmark the money for a future jail project, Magnusson said.