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Dedication of turbines turns energy focus to new generation

Willmar Municipal Utilities will dedicate its two new wind turbines Thursday. Tours will be available until 7 p.m. Submitted photo

WILLMAR -- Energy is an important issue for young people like Landon Peterson.

That's why, when Willmar Municipal Utilities dedicates its two new wind turbines Thursday afternoon, Peterson and 11 other Willmar Senior High School students will be promoting what they and others see as the need for a comprehensive national energy plan.

"We need a plan for the security of our future,'' Peterson says. "Our generation is going to need to be involved. It can't only be something for our parents. It's something we're going to need to be involved with.''

Peterson's team will have T-shirts promoting the message of Citizens Energy Plan, a local grassroots organization working for a comprehensive, nonpartisan and sustainable energy plan to ensure the country's energy and environmental futures.

"For me it's important for our generation because energy and how we use it will always be an issue,'' Peterson said Monday.

Peterson, who will be a junior, said Tim Chermak of Willmar, a 2009 graduate, talked to him about Citizens Energy Plan. "He brought me on board,'' said Peterson.

Emily Ellingson, who will be a senior, is working with Peterson to involve more young people. They set up a Facebook site, invited about 150 of their peers and have so far received 35 confirmations.

The young people will join others at the 4:30 p.m. dedication program for the two turbines. The event will be staged next to the bus parking lot at the north side of the high school. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at about 5:30 p.m.

Bused tours to the turbines, located just north of the high school, will continue until 7 p.m. The tours "will give people a chance to get close to the turbines and get an actual feel for how big they are, which you really can't do until you stand underneath them,'' says Willmar Utilities General Manager Bruce Gomm.

A video will give viewers a virtual tour of the inside of a turbine and photos of the construction, which ended this summer, will be available.

Gomm says the turbines are important to Willmar. The turbine project was envisioned about six to seven years ago but accelerated after Gomm became general manager in 2007.

"I believe that the utility is being very progressive at embracing renewable energy,'' Gomm said. "We're trying to be in the forefront. Along with the wind turbine project, we are also doing a biomass project, burning corn cobs in the coal plant. I believe we will be transitioning into a new energy field and the only way we're going to be able to do it is by making things like this happen.''

Gomm said the utility appreciates the public's support.

"The biggest question we had before we built them was: Why haven't we built them yet?'' he said. "The biggest question after we built them was: Why aren't they turning?''

The north turbine has been turning if wind speed is sufficient, but the south unit has not because a nick was discovered in a shaft on a 180-pound hydraulic cylinder that feathers one of the three blades. A crew from the power plant, along with a technician from DeWind -- which built the nacelle power unit -- took a replacement cylinder up the inner elevator to the top of the 292-foot turbine.

Gomm said the replacement process involved lifting the cylinder out the top of the nacelle, crawling across the top of the nacelle to the hub in front of the blades and crawling through a hatch into the hub. Gomm said crew members wore harnesses, though the surface has a non-slip texture.

Capping Thursday's events will be a concert by a local band called "We the People'' following the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Citizens Energy Plan organized the band to perform popular songs and original songs by Citizens Energy Plan President Lee Byberg with musician Floyd Campbell about energy, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Byberg says Citizens Energy Plan continues to raise public awareness. He believes elected leaders won't do anything about energy policy until there's a groundswell of support from citizens. He said the concert is one way to create some public interest in Citizens Energy Plan.

"I think it will be a unique setting,'' he said. "We hope it will be a day that we will remember in Willmar where something unique happened. That also helps us as a community to move forward and let Willmar be the showcase of how we came together as people.''