OWATONNA – A new $300 million wind power project in Steele and Dodge counties will bring millions of dollars of tax revenue to the area and generate enough electricity to power every home in Steele County four times over.
NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida company that bills itself as “the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun,” is planning to break ground in August 2018 on a 200 megawatt wind farm consisting of 83 individual turbines, of which 20 to 25 will be sited in Aurora and Havana Townships and the remainder will be in Dodge County.
Jason Harris, the project developer for NextEra, said the area has everything the company looks for when developing a new project.
“You obviously need land situated near a consistent wind resource. We love the wind resource here in Steele and Dodge County,” he said. “You need access to a high-voltage transmission line, and then obviously we need landowners willing to participate in the project, and a conducive regulatory environment, and we find all those things right here.”
NextEra is preparing its application to the Minnesota Public Utility Commission, and meeting with local governments to keep them informed about the project, so Harris and Senior Community Development Representative Kimberly Dickey visited Owatonna on Tuesday for an informational presentation to the Owatonna City Council.
“It’s a 30-year partnership,” Dickey said. “We wouldn’t want to be here if we’re not welcome, so this is part of our process where we’re doing our outreach.”
As described to the council, NextEra intends to submit its application to the state in July, with final approval expected the following summer. The full project, which includes the turbines, a substation collector southwest of Dodge Center, an on-site maintenance and operations building, and 25-mile transmission line to route the power into a Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency substation in Byron, could then be operational by the end of 2018.
Harris told the People’s Press after the meeting that while developers are still hammering down many of the details of siting and compliance with local and state regulations, they foresee no issues that could derail that timetable.
“We’re very confident that it’s going to move forward. Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission is very friendly toward wind,” he said. “They work in concert with the Department of Commerce and the DNR to make sure we are avoiding all the natural features, such as wetlands and wildlife habitats. … From our perspective, and from our communication with the Public Utility Commission and the way we’re organized on this project, we see no reason the project wouldn’t come through next year.”
That will mean a big infusion of money into the local economy. Harris told the council the project is expected to create 200 construction jobs, as well as seven to 12 permanent jobs on-site. The company also is working with local drainage contractors to ensure any damaged caused during construction is repaired locally. In addition, the company will pay about $34 million directly to landowners, and about $27 million in county taxes and $7 million in state tax over the 30-year term of the project permit.
As part of their permit application, NextEra is going through an exhaustive process to ensure the turbines are sited in an environmentally-friendly, legally complaint way.
“There’s a very involved, lengthy process when we go to site these machines,” he told the Council. “It has to do with certainly adhering to all the state and county and township ordinances, … and then we avoid environmental features and we have our own setbacks to implement for things like safety and health: noise setbacks, shadow flicker, those sorts of things.”
When finished, the 200 megawatts generated by the project will be enough to power about 60,000 homes, Harris said. By comparison, the Oak Glen wind farm north of Blooming Prairie is rated at 44 megawatts. As of the 2010 census, Steele County had about 14,300 households.
Harris said NextEra has a signed 30-year contract with a buyer for the power generated by the new project, but declined to say who it is, since the buyer has not yet made it public. Officials at both SMMPA and Xcel Energy told the People’s Press they are not the customers for the project.
Dickey and Harris will continue meeting with local government groups in the coming weeks, although Harris said there are no permits needed from the local counties. That doesn’t mean the company isn’t taking pains to be a good neighbor: Harris said NextEra plans to make a $15,000 donation to Fairview Care Center in Dodge Center, is looking for other sponsorship opportunities in the region, and will be working with county engineering officials to make sure that the local roads are “the same condition or better that we found them in” by the end of construction.
Harris said the company believes everyone will benefit once the development is complete.
“It’s a great project,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefits. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the economy, it’s a clean renewable energy source that uses no water resources.”