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Pawlenty set for turbine dedication

The West Central Research and OutreachCenter’s wind turbine already is cranking out electricity, and the WCROC staff also is powering up for an Earth Day christening.

Barring problems late in the legislativesession, those celebrations will include a visit from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Pawlenty is expected to do his weekly radioshow from Morris in conjunction with the turbine's April 22 commissioning.

The governor's presence not only highlights the day, but could spur interest in what the region has to offer,said Mike Reese, coordinator of the WCROC's renewable energy program.

"We saw what happened in Rochester," Reese said of reaction to Pawlenty's State of the State address from the southeastern Minnesota city earlier this year. "This canreally bring a lot of attention to the region and to renewable energy. (The event in) Rochester really showed what its positive strengths were, and we hope to do the same thing for Central Minnesota."

The details for the Earth Day ceremonies still are being worked out, but the 230-foot turbine began producing energy for the University of Minnesota, Morris campus March 8.

"I'm surprised how quickly it happened," Reese said.

Technicians from Iowa contracting forVestas, which built the turbine, prepared the turbine for operation earlier this month, and electricity is being sent to the UMM campus. If the turbine meets expectations, more than half of UMM's electricity could come from the spinning blades.

If the campus receives more energy than it can use, the surplus is sent to Otter Tail Power.

Sitting on a ridge above the Pomme de Terre River, the turbine should have plenty to power it.

For safety reasons, the turbine is designedto shut down should wind speeds exceed 50 miles per hour. That happened earlier this week, Reese said.

Completed the last week in February, the turbine is a key step in integrating renewable energy into Minnesota's rural economy and strengthening renewable energy research and education in the state,Reese stated.

The turbine is the only large-scale wind research instrument at a public university and provides the foundation for a wind-to-hydrogen project that will supply 5.6 million kilowatt-hours of power each year to UMM.

"Our goal is to establish systems research to stimulate the renewable energy industry and provide a model for ruralcommunities and agricultural producers to integrate renewable energy systemsinto their economies," said Greg Cuomo, head of the WCROC.

The University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Research and Demonstration Center is designed as a community-scale project whose goal is to combine local production and use of renewable energy with state-of-the-art research and demonstrations focusing on wind, biomass,biofuels, anaerobic digestion and renewable hydrogen.

In addition to the wind projects, The WCROC and university are pursuing:

- A biomass district heating andcooling system for UMM;

- A hybrid wind and biodiesel energysystem;

- An energy solar building addition to the WCROC office complex; and

- Work on a community anaerobic digester and methane pipeline system.

A mix of university, state, federal and private funding is being sought to complete these core systems.

The wind-to-hydrogen project at the WCROC has received initial funding from the state Commerce Department, the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources and the university's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. This system will stimulate the use ofrenewable hydrogen in applications like fuel cells and localized fertilizer production. In the future, the facility will conduct research and demonstration projects on wind storage and on-demand renewable energy systems such as biomass and biodiesel generation, in addition to hydrogen fuel cells.

The WCROC was a pioneer in ethanol research,building Minnesota's first ethanol research facility in the early 1980s. The state's ethanol industry is now a national leader, with 14 plants producing 300 million gallons of ethanol a year and annual sales running at $380 million.

"Our belief is that the renewable energy research and education we are doing now will deliver a great benefit to Minnesota," Cuomo said. "Renewable energy is poised to become an important part of our state and nation's energy future, and Minnesota will be a leader in this work."