While some say a possible solar-wind hybrid project near Frazee would benefit the city and its residents, others say it would annoy homeowners and kill off wildlife in the area.
Dan Juhl of Juhl Energy has come to the City of Frazee with a proposed project that would potentially create hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city. The project, which is estimated to cost $10 million, will come at little to no cost to the city but instead from groups interested in projects such as this one.
Juhl is also proposing a similar project in Audubon. Both are just proposals being studied at this point though, and no formal action has been taken on the projects.
At Thursday night’s public information meeting, there were about 40 people in the Frazee Event Center to question the project.
“We have developed this as a template to use all over (the United States),” Juhl said.
Juhl, whose family has been in the renewable energy business for 38 years, has completed more than 25 community-based projects, “and a bunch more projects in the works,” he said.
Frazee’s project – and Audubon’s as well – is proposed to consist of two GE 2.3 megawatt rotor wind turbines and 30 1 megawatt solar photovoltaic panels located at the city’s wastewater treatment facility and lagoons southeast of town. The project could produce up to 4.6 megawatts of energy.
“That is a lot of power for a small project,” Juhl said.
What makes this project different than most, he said, is that most wind-solar projects are owned by large corporations and/or energy companies. This one will be owned by the Frazee municipality.
While he has built other wind-solar projects in other areas – mainly southern Minnesota and North Dakota – he wanted to get communities involved, but how?
“The point is, we are producing energy that we all use,” he said.
University of Minnesota Morris professor Arne Kildegaard also spoke Thursday night and said he thinks Juhl is one of the first to come with this plan for local ownership rather than large out-of-state corporations.
“I think Dan made a very strong and correct statement that if we got a little piece of that action for ourselves, it would be worth it,” he said.
Not representing the university, Kildegaard said he was simply asked to vet Juhl’s plan as an outside source.
Juhl’s plan is to have the wind-solar produced energy sold to electric utilities, who in return sell the power back to residents. While residents won’t see a drop in their electric bills, the money the city makes from selling the energy to the electric company will give the city money to either fund new projects in town or possibly bring down taxes. That’s up to the city.
“It keeps the dollars in your local community,” he said.
The benefit of having both wind and solar part of the project is regardless of what’s going on outside, the facility will gather energy. If it’s not windy, the sun is still likely shining.
Some residents have disputed the amount of wind Juhl says the location sees. He said Thursday night though that his company has done studies and gotten information from various sources compiled to say that wind in the wastewater area measures about 7.08 meters per second at 80 meters high.
Others questioned who will be buying the energy. Juhl said he is talking with Otter Tail Power Company, Xcel Energy and a government program under the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act.
The money generated from selling the energy back to electric companies both pays off the $10 million start-up loan and gives the city funds each year – about $45,000 to begin with. That fluctuates about the first 20 years, and then after the loan is paid back, the city would supposedly receive about $800,000 a year for the remainder of the turbine’s life. Juhl estimates the project to have a 25-year life, but it could easily last longer, he said.
“If it lasts 25 years, the last five are very happy,” Kildegaard said. “It’s too bad you have to wait so long. It’s over $800,000 a year free and clear.”
Since the cost of the project is back by funds other than the city’s, Kildegaard said that the only issue of loss he can see for the city is if the turbine was to break down for some reason and it took the company a long time to come fix it. In the months while no energy is being collected, the city would still have to pay the loan back and therefore get funds from somewhere else.
Kildegaard and Juhl said there will be maintenance and service contracts involved with the project, and those costs will be built into the initial loan as well, so there wouldn’t be any costs to the city there either.
Those living in the neighborhood of the proposed wind-solar farm voiced their opinion against the project because of noise of the turbines and the flickering of the sun shining through the turning blades and into their homes.
One neighbor said he didn’t want to have to listen to the turning blades each day, but Juhl said they are required to keep the noise below a certain decibel.
City council member Bonnie Julius said the turbine noise couldn’t be worse than the 70 freight trains running near the same property every day.
Because of the visual and noise encroachments, neighbors worried their land values would decrease as well.
One of the biggest concerns was wildlife. From birds to bats to geese, neighbors worried that too many would die from the project and asked that an avian study be completed on the proposed project.
Juhl defended the project by saying that power lines are 10 times more dangerous for birds than turbines because they are static and birds fly into them. Turbines, he said, are moving and the birds see them easier.
Last year, Juhl did an initial impact study of the land, which included water, wildlife, cultural resources and wetlands. They found no major obstacles on the site.
“You have beautiful resources,” Kildegaard said, adding that he can see why neighbors are concerned about the project.
Frazee Administrator Jon Smith asked what the exit strategy was if the turbine shouldn’t perform as planned. Juhl said it would be cheaper to sell the turbine for steel and copper than disassemble it and try to save it. That shouldn’t be an issue though, he said.
“If the wind stops blowing, we have more problems than the machine,” he said.
And, he added, if it doesn’t perform, it’s the investors’ problem, not the city’s.
Still not convinced the wind-solar project is right for Frazee, audience members questioned that it would make the money Juhl says it will.
“I’ve never had one wind farm miss its mark,” he said.
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