Officials discuss wind power possibilities

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2003

State senators and citizens of southeastern Minnesota listened as representatives from various energy organizations presented information regarding the benefits of wind power and the barriers to realizing the potential for wind energy in Minnesota Friday in the Triton High School auditorium in Dodge Center.

John Dunlop, Great Plains Regional Manager of the American Wind Energy Association, spoke first and congratulated Minnesota on its wind energy-friendly policies. He said that Minnesota is number three in the nation for installed-energy capacity, with Texas at number one and Iowa at number two.

Dunlop then addressed some common concerns. Many people think that because wind is not constant, wind power is an uncertain means of supplying energy. Not true, he said. In fact, turbines in Minnesota operate more than 90 percent of the time.

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"That precludes the question of what do you do when the wind doesn't blow," he said.

Also, Dunlop said that people look at the wrong numbers when assessing the performance of wind turbines. Rather than looking at how often a turbine performs at maximum output, Dunlop said people should look at a figure called accredited capacity. This percentage predicts the capacity at which energy from wind turbines will be as reliable as other sources of energy such as coal and natural gas.

"If [a turbine has] a 20 percent accredited capacity, you can predict that it will function at that capacity as much as any other means," he said.

Barriers to development of wind turbines do exist. Mark Haller, vice president of technology at Zilkha Renewable Energy, talked about the difficulties involved in building turbines. He said that the unreliability of federal tax credits causes problems.

"We've been on a roller coaster of federal tax credits cometh, federal tax credit goeth," he said.

That, along with the long-term loans needed by an individual or company to build a turbine makes it "necessary to be in partnership with our utilities customers."

Zilkha Renewable Energy is negotiating with potential customers in Mower County and is looking to install about 130 turbines, each capable of producing about six million kilowatt hours per year.

A recent ruling by the Public Utilities Commission uses language that could cause problems for Zilkha.

"In the language stated, it infers all wind power energy must come off Buffalo Ridge," Haller said. "I don't think that was their intent, but we'll be teaming up to seek clarification."

State Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL Austin, agreed and said he would work with Zilkha and the PUC.

Sparks also said that the companies were doing a good job of lowering prices in Mower County and was optimistic about future development.

"We want to make sure we're not left behind," Sparks said. "The sheer number of people here today shows that a lot of people are very interested in the issue."

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at