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Wind farm project takes flight

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Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- Jackson County Commissioners last week approved a proposal for 10 new wind turbines to be constructed in Ewington Township, but according to developer Byron Christoffer, the plans are far from being completed.

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Christoffer, a part-owner in six 950-kilowatt turbines in Jackson County with his cousins, David and Steve, said the new turbines will be a family project with wife, Kathy, their two daughters, sons-in-law and seven grandchildren.

"We want to have a little more security for the future for our family -- if we can get (the turbines) going," said Christoffer from his Worthington home Tuesday. "We've got many hurdles to go through in order to get this project off the ground.

"There's about a 50-50 chance that this project would develop, at this time," he added.

The proposed 2-megawatt turbines, once complete, would be the largest in Minnesota -- and the tallest at 407 feet from the base to the tip of the blade. The turbines will consist of Suzlon technology and -- depending on when they are erected -- some of the parts may actually come from the new Suzlon Rotor Corp. plant under construction in Pipestone.

Seven of the turbines are slated to be placed in Section 20 of Ewington Township, with the other three planned in Section 34 of Ewington Township. Plans are to begin construction late this year and into 2007.

Christoffer's involvement in wind-generated power began in 2001, when he and his cousins started work on the six-turbine project. At the time, David was using a small 40-watt turbine to power his own farm, with the excess energy sold to the power company.

The trio secured a power purchase agreement with Great River Energy, and when their six turbines were commissioned in 2004, they were the first in Jackson County to sell power to the energy company.

"There really wasn't any (turbines) in this area -- just those on the Buffalo Ridge," Christoffer said.

At the time, the state offered incentives for land owners to erect wind turbines, and the federal government also offered tax credits.

Today, Christoffer said personal financing must be used to develop a project. Still, the 10 proposed wind turbines will be part of the Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) project, a Minnesota statute adopted for power companies that operate in the state.

C-BED was designed for small projects -- under 15 megawatts or two turbines per entity -- and is available only to developers who are Minnesota residents. The state's power companies will be required to work with a certain number of C-BED projects, Christoffer added.

Those projects will take time to develop. Christoffer said it can take anywhere from two-and-a-half to three years for a project to go from conception to completion, with the actual construction process of the turbines and access roads lasting about six months.

Among the biggest challenges to any project are getting a secure turbine supply, completing a power purchase agreement and conducting a MISO study to ensure the transmission lines can carry the electricity generated by the turbines.

Still, the investment, Christoffer believes, is a good one -- giving landowners an opportunity to diversify their income.

"Really, it's not a quick fix for a cash flow," he said. "It takes about 10 years for these turbines to start paying."

But when people can make money harvesting the wind, the wait seems worth it.

"It's a little different than putting up a cattle or hog set-up," he said. "There is work involved, but you don't have the daily chores. They're quiet, they're clean and there's not the environmental concerns that there are with livestock facilities.

"There's plenty of wind, and there always will be," he added.

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