Soon the cities of Frazee and Audubon may be able to harvest their wind and turn it into profit.
Each city, though not as a joint project, is studying a wind/solar hybrid project through a loan with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Each city has contributed $25,000 for their portion of the Juhl Energy study, which includes a review of the study by a University of St. Thomas professor.
Becker County has applied for a $10,000 grant from the Regional Sustainable Development Partnership for a professor at the University of Minnesota to review the study from a more independent view.
The University of Minnesota professor’s analysis of the study will be “geared more toward the benefits of the community,” Frazee City Administrator Jon Smith said.
Initial projections for the hybrid projects are $10-$12 million for each city.
The Audubon and Frazee projects are a part of a pilot program, designed to benefit rural Minnesota communities.
“Audubon was the first one they started looking at,” Audubon City Clerk Jessica Wiedenmeyer said. “We have some of the highest energy rates in this area. It costs ‘X’ to create the energy, and if we put these in, it would be a lesser amount.”
Audubon’s location for the turbines would be next to the transformer, so that is a plus for the project.
“The second reason is it can generate money for the city,” she added. “Those are obviously ways we need to look at, ways to generate money for our city. Being so small, there are only select ways to do it.”
Smith said Frazee got involved with the study because Mayor Hank Ludtke has been a firm supporter of renewable energy for quite some time and sits on the Clean Energy Resources Team (CERTS) committee.
The study is being conducted for about the next six weeks, and then the analysis will take place. Ideally, the cities should have results at the end of July or beginning of August.
“Then we will decide if we want to move forward with the project,” Smith said.
If so, both cities will find local investors and sell bonds for the construction of the wind turbines.
“They were pretty optimistic that (the wind turbines) could be up and running by late fall,” he said.
Frazee has identified a location near the city’s waste water facility that would house the two 1.5 megawatt turbines and solar panels. It would be a 4.5 megawatt system.
Smith said the impending study will ensure that is the ideal site for the city as well.
The payback of the system has large potential for a large payout.
“It could produce upwards of $100,000 a year for the city,” Smith said.
Wiedenmeyer said that Audubon has been given a profit estimate as well, but since nothing is in writing, she’d rather not say. Regardless, the revenue will help lower energy rates for Audubon residents.
The Audubon wind turbines will be located north of town near the existing turbine. They will have the same turbines and solar panels as Frazee.
What energy provider the cities will sell the energy to will also be included in the study, Smith said.
So what will Frazee do with that extra money? That has yet to be determined.
“There will either be a reduction in property taxes or more stuff getting done (around the city),” Smith said, adding that this system will also stabilize energy rates long term for city residents.
“They (Juhl Energy) really want to get it going,” Wiedenmeyer said. “And from the sounds of it, it would be a very good benefit for our city.”
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