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Dave Olson, Published March 08 2009

Little wind farm could crank out power by 2010

The first wind farm to put down roots in Clay County in about eight years could be up and spinning by summer 2010.

The Romar wind project, which recently received the green light from county officials after generating little controversy, could hint at things to come.

At least two other developers are seeking approval of much larger projects.

Compared to the bigger farms proposed, the Romar project “is absolutely tiny,” said Jon Folkedahl, a wind energy consultant from Willmar, Minn., who is spearheading the plan, which envisions a pair of wind turbines that would generate 2 megawatts of power each.

While most projects that small wouldn’t be viable, Folkedahl said the Romar plan makes economic sense primarily because of one factor: location.

Enjoying the seventh- highest elevation in Minnesota, the spot near Rollag planned for the wind towers has one of the best exposures to wind in the state, said Folkedahl, who was hired to develop the site by the owners of the land, Rolf and Mary Garborg, who live in Prior Lake, Minn.

Although she has never lived on the Clay County property, Mary Garborg said the land has been in her family for decades.

High-level talks

The Garborgs had been approached by a number of companies wanting to develop the land for wind generation when, by chance, they met Folkedahl’s son-in-law on a plane trip.

When they were put in touch with Folkedahl, the Garborgs learned they could do a project themselves.

“We were just intrigued with the opportunity to have our farmland used to generate power for the community,” Mary Garborg said.

The cost of the project is expected to be about $8 million, or $2 million per megawatt of production, according to Folkedahl, who said the supplier of some of the parts being used is new to the United States and is offering attractive prices as a way to break into the market.

Rolf Garborg said financial partners will front a good share of the start-up cost and reap most of the initial benefits.

The Garborgs, who have been in the Christian publishing industry for many years, don’t expect to see a return on their wind investment for 15 years.

“We’re hoping it could help with our grandchildren’s college education,” Mary Garborg said.

‘Overwhelming’

Two other development groups are working to secure permits to set up wind farms in Clay County.

Because they each would generate at least 5 megawatts, the projects are seeking permits from the state, not the county, which has authority to permit wind farms of less than 5 megawatts.

The Lakeswind Power Plant is proposing about 34 wind turbines, most of them in Clay County. They would generate about 1.5 megawatts of power each, though the number of towers could shrink if larger turbines are used.

The park, estimated to cost more than $100 million, would be in the same general area as the Romar wind farm.

There has not been a public meeting or public hearing on the project.

The Noble Flat Hill Windpark plans to build about 134 wind towers north of Glyndon.

The $450 million project has already been the subject of a public meeting and must have a public hearing before a permit is issued.

There is talk of another potential project, possibly involving as many as 200 towers, for an area north of the Lakeswind project, said Tim Magnusson, Clay County planning director.

There is also talk of a developer pursuing a 100-plus tower wind farm in the northeast part of the county.

New standards

“There are companies out there getting land leases locked up,” said Magnusson, who called the potential number of wind towers heading for Clay County “overwhelming.”

Magnusson said he has drafted a new wind power ordinance that would govern future small projects looking to build in the county.

The new ordinance addresses what Magnusson said are outdated standards developed when wind turbines were much smaller than the ones being built today.

The revised ordinance, which Magnusson plans to bring before the county Planning Commission.

Magnusson wouldn’t get into the details of the draft ordinance prior to submitting it to the Planning Commission, but he said by statute, if a county sets more stringent standards than the state requires, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission must apply the county rules unless it can present good reasons why it shouldn’t.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555