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Wind farms, such as this one pictured, are popping up across the country.  Minnesota ranks fourth in wind energy output in the U.S.

Graphic: George Doyle/Getty Images/Thinkstock.com
Wind farms, such as this one pictured, are popping up across the country. Minnesota ranks fourth in wind energy output in the U.S. Graphic: George Doyle/Getty Images/Thinkstock.com

Windy debate hits Parkers Prairie

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news Alexandria, 56308

Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Nearly 100 people gathered at the Parkers Prairie Event Center Tuesday evening to listen to input on a proposed 70- to 100-megawatt wind energy project that would be built one mile north of Parkers Prairie.

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About a dozen individuals stood up at the meeting to voice their reaction to the plan, which could include as many as 40 wind turbines. Of those, about seven were strongly opposed to the project.

Staff from the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Manuel Cervantes, administrative law judge, conducted the public hearing in conjunction with the project's request for a site permit and certificate of need.

The hearing is a standard procedure in the review process and offers people an opportunity to voice concerns or support of the project.

A group of local farmers known as Prairie Wind Energy, LLC is planning the wind energy conversion system, which would be located in southeastern Ottertail County west of State Highway 29 and north of State Highway 235. Most of the project would be in Parkers Prairie and Elmo townships, with some falling into Effington and Folden townships.

At Tuesday's meeting, Amanda Sanvik, a member of Prairie Wind Energy, LLC, shared what the proposed project involves and discussed the studies that have been completed so far.

Sanvik noted that the group consulted with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to mitigate wildlife impact and stated that a wetland impact analysis was conducted. Members have also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state historical preservation office, farm services and conservation agencies.

A radar analysis was done to ensure the project doesn't infringe on federal radar frequencies. Soil, shadow flicker and noise analysis were also conducted, and the group voluntarily contacted a wildlife biologist to conduct a raptor study.

Sanvik also cited several expected benefits the project would bring to the Parkers Prairie community, including:

• Annual lease payments paid to those with turbines on their land. The leased land would continue to be classified as agricultural for property tax purposes.

• An angled tax revenue. Minnesota imposes a production tax on the production of electricity from wind energy conversion systems. For projects of more than 12 megawatts, a .12 cents per kilowatt hour tax is paid. For this project, that tax is estimated at $400,000 per year. Of that, 80 percent ($320,000) would go to the county and 20 percent ($80,000) would go to the townships where the turbines are located.

• Influx of workers. About 150 workers would be in the area for the construction process, which could mean housing rentals, room and board, camping, groceries, gas, recreation, etc.

• Employment opportunities and work for local contractors. Project organizers noted they hope to use local contractors during the construction phase whenever possible.

There would also be employment opportunities when the project is operating. Ten or more employees could be needed, including turbine maintenance employees and office personnel.

• Reduction in carbon emissions.

"There are many benefits to the community that can be reaped from this project," Sanvik stated. "We are working hard to make sure this is a positive thing for Parkers Prairie."

Several project supporters shared their input at the meeting.

"Prairie Wind Energy is a great addition to our community," said Glen Olson of Elmo Township, one of the current project contract holders. "If this project doesn't get done here, it will go somewhere else and they will reap the benefits."

Dale Duics, who lives on the western edge of the proposed project, stated, "Everybody values electricity a lot. Turn it off a day or two and it's a huge inconvenience. People want this power without the inconvenience of production. When you consider wind towers versus coal or nuclear, most would certainly choose wind. This is the chance for a local member to get some input into the grid and I think we should take advantage of it."

THE OPPOSITION

Several people spoke out in opposition of the project at Tuesday's meeting. The majority of concerns center around the following:

• Impact on property values.

• Local tax implications.

• Impact on farm land.

• Impact on aerial crop applications.

• Impact on area wildlife and wildlife habitats.

• Short and long-term effects of noise, shadow flicker, stray voltage and electric and magnetic fields.

• Impact on community aesthetics.

Ken Peterson of Staples owns an aerial spraying company and opposes the proejct: "My biggest concern is the location of it. It is right in a prime agricultural area. Twenty percent of my total business is in the footprint area."

Peterson said he sprayed 13,464 acres in the footprint area in 2010. If unable to spray those acres, it would be a loss to his company of about $100,000.

Gary Plath of Parkers Prairie noted that he sees the area as a retirement community, and that potential residents would not choose the area if the turbines were put up.

"If I would have come up Nelson Road and saw a dozen turbines, I'd have kept looking," he said. "The reason I chose this area was the fishing, the hunting, the people - it's a great place to live. Aesthetically speaking, I am against it. To put something up this controversial, I don't think it's neighborly."

PROJECT BACKGROUND

The project began in 2007 as an idea for a small, 20 megawatt wind project, with turbines to be built on less productive agricultural land, such as dry land corners and land that could not be irrigated.

The goal was to improve the land's yield by harvesting another commodity - the wind.

As word spread about the project, other landowners voiced an interest in being part of it, and the project was opened up to a larger scale.

Currently, 23 landowners have signed contracts to have turbines constructed on their property.

While the actual output and number of turbines will be determined by what size and type of turbine is used, it is estimated there could be as many as 40 turbines producing 100 megawatts.

The project has two permanent meteorological towers that are used to measure wind speed and wind direction for the project.

The first began operating in June 2008. It was 380 feet with six wind monitoring levels. This tower was destroyed by a tornado in June 2010 and replaced that September with a 330-foot tower with five wind monitoring levels.

A second tower was installed three miles north of the first tower. It is 190 feet and has four levels of instruments.

The project is currently in the final stages of a multi-year, multi-phase power grid connection study to determine if the power grid is capable of handling a 100 megawatt project in this location and, if not, what grid upgrades are necessary.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

The public comment period on the proposed Prairie Wind Energy project remains open until October 19. Written comments may be submitted to Judge Manuel Cervantes, Office of Administrative Hearings, P.O. Box 64620, St. Paul, MN 55164-0620; faxed to (651) 361-7936 or e-mailed to Manuel.Cervantes@state.mn.us. Mailed comments must be postmarked by October 19; faxed and delivered comments must be received by 4:30 p.m. on that date.

TO LEARN MORE

To learn more about the Prairie Wind Energy Project, visit its website at www.pwemn.net.

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