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32-unit wind farm right next door

Work on a 32-turbine wind farm in Clay, Becker and Otter Tail counties will start next month.

The Lakeswind wind farm will generate up to 49 megawatts of electricity. Most turbines -- all but two -- will be in Clay County in the vicinity of Tansem and Parke townships in the Rollag area.

Becker County will see two turbines in the County Road 6 area and another right across the Clay County line.

Power generated by the wind farm will join the regional power grid via the Tamarac substation in the vicinity of Scambler Township in Otter Tail County.

While the Clay County Board supports the project, noting it will bring jobs and tax revenues to the county, some in the area object to the wind farm.

"We strongly oppose the development of large wind energy conversion systems in this region of Minnesota lakes country and are firmly against Lakeswind's request," read one such letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. "Such immense projects as those proposed in the Rollag community will have a significant lifelong impact on families and landowners. It is our concern that the Lakeswind project would set a devastating precedent for the region, possibly opening the door for development up and down the length of eastern Clay, Otter Tail, Wilkin and Becker counties."

The PUC did not say who the letter was from, though it noted that three-quarters of the 16 comment letters received were in support of the project.

The Minnesota PUC -- not individual counties -- grants wind farm permit applications, and the PUC approved the Lakeswind project. However, it later forced the developer -- Project Resources Corp. of Minneapolis -- to scale down from a 60 megawatt project to under 50 megawatts.

That's partly because PRC apparently plans to sell the power out of state, and so does not qualify for permit considerations granted power producers that help meet the Minnesota goal of having 20 percent of its power come from sustainable sources by the year 2020.

Lee Glover, general office manager for Project resources Corp., appeared before the Becker County Board Tuesday.

She provided maps showing where the turbines will be sited and the location of collector cables, feeder cables, substations and the project boundary.

"Developing a wind farm is a very lengthy process," she said. "It could be seven to 12 years before you're actually ready to build a wind farm."

There is land acquisition to be done -- landowners typically sign a 30-year lease, but the power cables are buried and the turbines leave a relatively small footprint, Glover said. Farmers can work the land all around them, for instance.

There are wind monitoring studies to be completed -- to make sure there's enough wind to make a turbine site productive.

There's an interconnect agreement to be negotiated for the existing power grid, a PUC site permit to be obtained, a microwave beam path study to be completed, FAA studies to do, archeological studies to complete, project design to finish, and a construction contractor to hire.

PRC chose Golden Valley, Minn.-based Mortenson Construction, which has completed more than 100 wind projects totaling nearly 11,000 megawatts of power.

Another key partner is Eden Prairie-based Westwood Professional Services, a land and energy development consultant that has worked on 220 wind farms since its first in 1997.

After winning approval for the plan from the PUC, and seeing it delayed and amended, construction on Lakeswind is now set to start July 1.

Because of setback requirements for everything from wetlands to eagle nests, and other factors, the turbines will be loosely grouped in threes, fours and fives, though there are several pairs and single turbines as well.

They will be spread out over a township-sized area and all linked by connector cable to a wind farm substation in Clay County.

From there, a long feeder cable will bring the power to the existing Tamarac substation.

Glover said she is not a technical expert, having focused more on the real estate end of the project, and did not know the planned height of the towers or the wattage that each will be capable of generating.