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Kandiyohi County gives wind energy a vote of support

WILLMAR -- A local wind energy group has received a resolution of support from the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, a move that will allow it to go forward as a community-based energy development project.

The County Board adopted the resolution Tuesday on behalf of Lake Country Wind Energy.

The project already has 64 landowners in eastern Kandiyohi County and western Meeker County who have committed 16,500 acres for wind towers, said Steve Bergo, chairman of the Lake Country Wind Energy advisory board and a rural Grove City farmer.

Community investors and supporters also have pledged nearly $1.4 million worth of capital for developing the project, Bergo told the County Board on Tuesday.

"The response has been tremendous," he said.

A formal resolution of support by the County Board is one of the steps necessary for the project to be designated a community-based energy development project as outlined by the Minnesota Legislature.

The legislation, enacted in 2006, is meant to encourage local efforts to develop wind power that benefits communities at the local, regional and state level. Projects with the community-based energy development designation also can receive consideration from public utilities that are seeking new sources of power generation.

There are strong incentives to do so. By 2025, Minnesota utilities will be required to obtain 25 percent of their power through renewable energy sources.

Bergo said Lake Country Wind Energy is partnering with National Wind, a Minneapolis-based enterprise that helps develop and support wind energy projects at the local level.

"We're promoting a community-owned project," he said. "We wanted a business model where landowners can benefit."

If the project comes to fruition, it could pump money into the local economy in the form of revenue for landowners and renewable energy opportunities for local utilities, as well as energy production tax revenues.

Buffalo Ridge, in southwestern Minnesota, has some of the state's highest wind speeds and was one of the first regions to start developing wind power on a large scale.

Wind speeds in central Minnesota aren't far behind, however, Bergo said. "We're some of the next logical development areas for wind energy in the state of Minnesota."

A meteorological tower north of Atwater has been collecting data since September, he said. Lake Country Wind Energy plans to gather a year's worth of information on wind speeds and directions.

The group opened an office in Atwater last summer and has two employees who have been working with landowners and developing lease documents, Bergo said.

Many of the preliminary steps -- wind and environmental studies and a preliminary transmission analysis -- have already been completed, he said.

The group is starting the permit process this month. It's a rigorous procedure that requires a series of permits and approval from the state.

"Roughly we've been estimating a two- to three-year development time frame," Bergo said.

The plan calls for about 170 wind turbines that will power up to 340 megawatts of energy.