STEELE COUNTY – Renewable energy has been a hot topic for years throughout the United States, and southern Minnesota is not exempt from trying to find a way too be more green.
NextEra Energy Resources approached the Steele County Board of Commissioners at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday to inform the commissioners of a new potential project that could be coming to the area as early as next spring.
“We analyze the area we wish to develop in for the best resource in that area,” said Mike Weich with NextEra. “We determined that wind is the best resource for energy development in this area of the country and in these specific communities.”
NextEra is proposing a County Wind Energy Center project to span across Steele and Dodge counties. It would be owned and operated by a subsidiary of NextEra and is expected to have a maximum capacity of up to 170 megawatts produced by up to 71 wind turbines. Each turbine will be up to 88 meters tall from the ground to the hub in the center of the blades. The areas in Steele County that would be impact include Aurora and Havana townships.
“With all the work we’ve done and the analysis we’ve done, I just want to clearly update you on where we see the benefits of the project and how the communities will be impacted,” Weich said to the commissioners. “The project will provide approximately 200 construction jobs during the construction timeline.”
The proposed timeline is currently projected to begin in the late spring/early summer of 2019, with completion of the project four to six months later. Weich also stated that upon project completion there will be about a dozen full-time operation jobs created and will collect more than $15 million in property taxes through year-end 2032.
“During the construction timeline, all those construction workers will be in and around the communities, so we typically see an economic boom in the counties that we set up in across the country,” he added. “We will also continually receive any information you guys have throughout the life of the contract regarding local contractors or local companies that feel they can provide help and aid during the project.”
“We have a meeting in June set up with the Chamber of Commerce,” said Kimberly Dickey, also with NextEra. “We will identify a host of businesses and hotel accommodations and restaurants that we’ll put on a big list we supple to our contractors so that your local businesses are benefiting.”
Despite all the direct impact the project could have on Steele County, whether or not the project happens is actually beyond the county’s control.
“The projects of this size are permitted by the State Public Utilities Commission, not local government. They are exempt from that permitting,” explained Dale Oolman, the planning and zoning director for Steele County.
Dickey explained that the draft application has already been submitted to the State Director of Commerce. Once comments are provided back, NextEra will move forward with the permit application, which will then be followed by a public comment period.
“There is an entire 12-month period with public hearings,” Dickey said. “That’s a lot of opportunity for comments
“Yes, the state has the permitting process we have to adhere to in order to build the project,” Weich added. “But in parallel, we want to also interact with the townships and counties and get your feedback so we can work with the communities along the way as well. Wind farms don’t get built without community participation.”
Weich also explained that if the project were to move forward, upon the expiration of the contract in 2032 there would be a couple options on how to move forward with the energy center.
“We have the opportunity to find another contractual partner in the project and conduct a repower,” he said. “That can be seen in two processes: either we just conduct the maintenance on those given turbines and enhance their technology, which we’re currently doing throughout the country, or depending on where technology is we might be able to minimize the size of the site. We would decommission the current ones and build new ones, meaning we could go from 71 turbines to maybe 35.”
Weich added that the turbines would never be decommissioned and left standing, stating that they are too valuable not to recycle.
The next step of the process is to wait out the next couple of weeks and see if the state decides that wind truly is the next step for home-grown energy in Southern Minnesota.