The answer might be blowing in the wind

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 20, 2000

Guilt-free electricity could be available soon in Austin – at a price.

Sunday, August 20, 2000

Guilt-free electricity could be available soon in Austin – at a price.

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Wind power, produced by a 900-kilowatt wind turbine in the wind-rich area of Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota, could be powering Austin’s environmentally aware as soon as February. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, which provides power to Austin and its 17 other member utilities, will be buying the wind power from Northern Alternative Energy Inc.

The program will allow customers of SMMPA member utilities like Austin and Owatonna to choose to buy wind power in 100-kilowatthour blocks for a small premium over their current cost of electricity.

"A 100-kilowatthour block purchased each month for a year will have the same environmental effect as planting a half-acre of trees or not driving your car 2,400 miles," Daniel M. Hayes, supervisor of member support programs for SMMPA, said.

Austin Utilities General Manager Jerry McCarthy is excited about the chance to offer environmentally friendly energy, something he said clients probably could start signing up for in November if they want to.

"This (the wind power) is probably the first of several options that the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency will be looking at," McCarthy explained. "How many other options come about will depend in part on what the reaction to this turbine is."

Wind power is the world’s fastest growing energy source. In the United States, more than $1 billion of new generation totaling 1.073 megawatts was built between July 1998 and June 1999. More than half was built in Minnesota and Iowa, according to Hayes.

"The time is right to offer wind power," Hayes said. "We have a great wind source here in Minnesota at Buffalo Ridge and technology improvements have driven down the cost to produce electricity with wind."