Plans for wind turbines and solar power in Frazee and Audubon have been dealt a setback by the disappearance from the scene of the major promoter of the project.
“We have not heard anything from the people we had the study done for,” said Frazee Mayor Hank Ludtke.
Frazee is not responsible for any costs at this point, he added.
Sustainable Energy Financing Program of Belmont, Mass., had marketed the project to Frazee, Audubon, and other small cities as a pilot program that would provide sustainable energy and bring revenue into city coffers.
It would generate $45,000 a year or more in profit to the city for the first 20 years, until the loan is paid off, and some $800,000 a year after that.
Frazee’s project – and Audubon’s as well – is proposed to consist of two General Electric 2.3 megawatt rotor wind turbines and 30 solar photovoltaic panels that generate another 1 megawatt, located at the city’s wastewater treatment facility and lagoons southeast of town. The project could produce up to 4.6 megawatts of energy.
Sustainable Energy hired Dan Juhl, owner of Juhl Energy of Woodstock, Minn., to conduct a study on the viability of the proposed wind turbines.
The study is done, but nobody’s home at Sustainable Energy – the principal has dropped out of touch and hasn’t returned multiple phone calls, leaving Juhl unpaid for the $20,000 study, which shows that the average wind speed above Frazee is about 16 mph.
In a phone interview, Juhl said he is has given up on Sustainable Energy Resources and is now working on other options for the project.
“It’s still in process – all this stuff takes time,” he said. “We have other financing options which are available.” Construction of new utility infrastructure “doesn’t move at light speed, to say the least,” he added. “We just have to take it one step at a time. It will be a good thing for the communities when it does come through, that’s for sure.”
Juhl said he has been working on financing options with the federal Agriculture Department’s Rural Utility Service.
“Just this week we got an official letter from RUS stating that the communities we are working with do qualify,” Juhl said in a letter to the Frazee EDA, although the loan would have a different structure than the original proposal.
Ludtke said the technology around renewable energy is improving rapidly – the connectivity of solar power and wind power has improved to the point where the project would now save $1.5 million off the original project estimate right off the bat, Lutke said.
It’s unfortunate that Sustainable Energy Resources dropped out of sight, he added, because those energy tax credits may not be available to Frazee in the future, and conditions are favorable for construction this year.
City-let construction bids have come in about 30 percent under the engineer’s estimate this construction season.
“It’s a feasible project,” he said. “This would have been a good year to do it.”
It’s frustrating on the local level, just like it’s frustrating on the state level that the bonding bill didn’t pass this year, he said.
“Fuel costs are down, people are looking for work, and we can’t get a bonding bill through the legislature,” Ludtke said. “So people are on unemployment, getting a government check, instead of working and paying taxes.”
The sustainable energy project involves selling the energy to a power company such as Otter Tail Power, and Juhl is working to negotiate a possible power purchase agreement for city consideration in January.
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