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2 wind farms coming to Dickinson County

SPIRIT LAKE – Iowa Great Lakes residents might notice the construction of some new wind turbines in Dickinson County in the near future.

Tradewind Energy, an energy company based in Lenexa, Kansas, is in the preliminary stages of developing two new wind farm projects – North Star and Red Rock – in Dickinson County.

North Star will encompass 70 turbines primarily located in eastern Dickinson County. Red Rock will house 180 turbines in southeastern Dickinson County and parts of Emmet and Palo Alto counties.

Tradewind Energy Development Manager Jeff Hammond estimated that 500 megawatts of power will be generated from the two farms. He hopes to have the projects completed by 2019.

“I think renewable energy is really important,” Hammond said. “I have three sons and a grandson, and I’d like to see them to grow up in a world not polluted with noxious gas. These farms are a way to create clean energy and do that.”

Tradewind Energy is seeking to lease around 75,000 acres to construct the turbines on. The company recently held meetings with landowners in the area in attempt to secure the needed property.

Hammond said Tradewind Energy is currently working on restructuring the leases of 30,000 acres from previous wind farm projects.

Environmental studies will be conducted once the land is procured to measure the impact of the wind farms. Hammond said Tradewind Energy will also have to obtain several permits to go forward.

“We do have a couple of species of birds in the area, the bald eagle in particular, that are really making a comeback,” Hammond said. “That’s good, but they are still protected. We need to give them good leeway. We need to make sure we are not sighting these turbines so they have a significant impact not only on the bald eagles but migratory birds in general and bats.”

Hammond said Tradewind Energy is looking into using turbines manufactured by Vestas. These turbines will on average generate 2 megawatts of power and sit just shy of 500 feet when a blade is extended upward.

All the components of the turbines will be produced in the United States. Hammond said Tradewind Energy plans to use as many parts made in Iowa as possible.

“The ability to produce things locally instead of shipping parts over from Europe has allowed the cost of wind to go down significantly,” Hammond said. “The cost of wind has dropped 66 percent in the past five years. Wind is now more competitive than coal.”

Hammond said building the wind turbines will employ around 100 to 150 people. He added about a dozen workers will be needed to maintain the turbines once they are built.

The turbines will need to be replaced every 40 years. This is a 20-year increase from many turbines already in the area.

“These turbines have come a long way,” Hammond said. “The blades have so much technology that goes into them. They have systems now that will send a beam ahead of the turbine to know exactly what wind is coming before it hits the blades, so the blades can adjust and catch the maximum amount of wind.”

Hammond said energy the two wind farms produce could power up to 150,000 homes. However, he said some of the power will be sold to companies around the nation.

“The power could go east, it could go west,” Hammond said. “You could make some good guesses. We sell to whoever buys our energy. In the old days, the utilities would buy all the power. Now, quite a few large companies are making plays to buy power directly.”

North Star and Red Rock chairman Alan Blum said a new 345 kilovolt transmission line, which runs just south of Dickinson County, was crucial in drawing Tradewind Energy to the area.

“The line will be energized in November,” Blum said. “That’s when they will turn the power on. We have been in the queue for it since March of 2015 to get our power into that line. All 500 megawatts will go into that line.”

Dickinson County District 4 Supervisor Paul Johnson encourages landowners who have decided to lease their property to examine their contracts meticulously to ensure they are getting the best deal for themselves and future generations.

“I’m concerned that farmers aren’t going to get all the facts before they lease their land,” Johnson said. “I’d be asking lots of questions. I suspect many farmers and the general public are not engineering experts, so they have to be at least cognizant of some of the ramifications. You have to make sure you know exactly what you are signing.”

Johnson said he is also concerned with the environmental implications and the possibility of the technology becoming outdated.

“As they extend the number and the height is increased on these turbines, other states have reported there is an impact on migratory waterfowl,” Johnson said. “The blades are huge and birds are going to get killed.”

Blum said the Red Rock project alone will pay $49 million in real estate taxes to Emmet County and Dickinson County combined. Tradewind Energy wants to start construction of the turbines in the next two years.

“This will have the largest financial impact on (Dickinson and Emmet counties) ever,” Blum said. “We are excited to get going.”