BIRD ISLAND, Minn. – One of the country’s largest wind power developers is proposing to build a 100-megawatt wind farm in Renville County, which would be the largest wind project in the region.
EDP Renewables of Houston, Texas, hosted an open house Wednesday evening, Dec. 5, in Bird Island to explain the project. The company was not obligated to hold the meeting as part of a permitting process. It wanted to provide information to the public because it is aware that discussion is occurring as county residents learn about the plans, according to David Neely, project manager for what is currently being called the Renville County Wind Farm.
“We want to be as transparent as possible with the overall community,’’ Neely said. “Here’s who we are and what we’d like to do.”
The company is proposing to erect 23 to 26 turbines, each with an approximate 4-megawatt capacity, in Kingman and Osceola townships north of Bird Island and south of the Renville-Kandiyohi County line. The turbines would be atop 345-foot-tall towers, according to the current plans.
To date, the company has 50 landowners interested in hosting turbines in an area covering 11,000 acres. The actual footprint will likely be smaller, Neely said.
The company will need approval from the state Public Utilities Commission for the project. It has already undertaken studies looking at avian and bat populations, bird migrations, and whether the project would affect critical habitat or species of special concern as part of the permitting process. Initial work shows the project to be “relatively benign” from a wildlife perspective since it would be built in an area that is used almost entirely for agriculture.
The company said the wind farm would pay $500,000 to $600,000 a year in production taxes to Renville County, with a portion of that going to the hosting townships. It expects annual payments of $600,000 to $700,000 to property owners in the project area.
The ability to connect to the regional power grid on a major transmission line running to the Panther substation near Bird Island was one of the factors that led the company to Renville County. There is enough room to add more power to the line there, Neely said. Finding capacity on transmission lines is very critical for the siting of wind farms, he noted.
The proposed wind farm location is also in relative proximity to potential customers for the electricity it would generate. “There’s a lot of interested buyers for the power in this particular area,’’ Neely said.
The area also has a good wind resource, according to data the company has been collecting on a meteorological tower installed in 2011. It is now adding two other monitoring towers in the area.
If all goes as hoped, Neely said the company intends to begin construction in mid-2020.
A 100-megawatt wind farm would be the area’s largest to date, but it is the standard size for farms being developed by EDP Renewables. The company currently has 46 wind farms in the U.S. with a total of 2,900 turbines. The company is rated fourth in the U.S. for wind power capacity.
The company has found landowner support in the area it needs for a project to go forward, according to Neely.
Changes in wind power technology that are making turbines larger and more powerful – but also quieter – also play a role in the company’s selection of the Renville County site, according to Neely. The new technology allows the company to take advantage of a wind resource that is not as powerful as is found in places such as western Kansas or Minnesota’s Buffalo Ridge.
Larger and quieter technology also means the landscape does not hold as many turbines, he pointed out. The company has a policy of siting turbines no closer than 1,500 feet from residences, which is double the state’s requirement.
Along with tax revenues and payments to landowners, the project would create an estimated 100 construction jobs and eight permanent jobs for the area, according to EDP Renewables.
The company is not disclosing the estimated cost for constructing the wind farm. Windustry, an industry trade group, reports on its website that “most commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 megawatt in size and cost roughly $3 to $4 million installed.”
In the region, construction is nearly complete on an 18-turbine, 44.6-megawatt Palmer Creek wind farm near Granite Falls. The area’s first large wind farms were the Meeker County projects near Cosmos and Grove City. Originally known as the Adams and Danielson wind farms, they have a combined capacity of 40 megawatts.
Norfolk Wind once sought to erect turbines near Bird Island
BIRD ISLAND, Minn. – EDP Renewables’ proposal to build a wind farm near Bird Island is not the first time this area of Renville County has been considered for a renewable energy project.
A decade ago, a group of local investors known as Norfolk Wind Energy LLC was very interested in developing what would have been a 40-megawatt wind farm just south of the community. The proximity to a major transmission line and a substation that can serve as the on-ramp to it attracted the group’s attention.
The group had to abandon its plans after spending about $750,000 toward the project, with about $500,000 of that amount coming from a large company interested in the renewable energy it would produce, according to David Scheibel of Bird Island, the group’s former president.
“A matter of timing,” said Scheibel, explaining that the challenges at that point in time worked against the investors.
When the group looked to develop its project, demand by prospective wind developers to transmit power basically overwhelmed the entity that oversees the regional transmission grid, according to Scheibel. Known as the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, it wanted project developers to contribute to the costs for upgrades to the transmission system, including a line running from Rochester to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Scheibel said.
MISO initially proposed an interconnection fee for Norfolk Wind that exceeded any potential payout available through a power purchase agreement, he said.
Norfolk Wind also was wanting to sell power at a time when major utilities were looking to buy electricity in larger blocks than the 40 megawatts it could offer, he added.
Norfolk also looked at a potential solar power project in the area, but without success. “We chased a lot of avenues trying to get a project together,” said Scheibel.
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