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Published December 06, 2012, 08:34 AM

Minn. wind farm holds commissioning ceremony

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — With wind speeds topping 46 miles per hour — 53 mph at the top of the tower — Lars Falck, a representative of juwi Germany, clipped a bright red ribbon to signify the commissioning of Nobles County’s newest wind farm and Minnesota’s tallest towers.

By: Julie Buntjer, Forum Communications

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — With wind speeds topping 46 miles per hour — 53 mph at the top of the tower — Lars Falck, a representative of juwi Germany, clipped a bright red ribbon to signify the commissioning of Nobles County’s newest wind farm and Minnesota’s tallest towers.

Dozens of landowners, investors and juwi Wind LLC representatives were on hand for the Wednesday afternoon ceremony commissioning Community Wind South east of Reading. The wind farm consists of 15, 2-megawatt Repower towers, each towering 480 feet to the top tip of the blade.

Wednesday’s celebration had been a long time in the making, according to David Benson, Community Wind South board chairman.

“I’m very relieved and very happy,” Benson said following the ribbon cutting. “I feel so good that the project is finished. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs for the past 10 years.”

Benson was a member of the Minnesota Rural Energy Board when the request was made to give communities along Xcel Energy’s 345-kilowatt transmission line stretching from Sioux Falls, S.D., to the Lakefield junction an opportunity to have local investment.

“We, as the Minnesota Rural Energy Board, said there should be some opportunity for a modest investment from the host community,” he explained. “It’s taken us this long for a lot of reasons to actually get the project finished.”

The state authorized a 60-megawatt community project on March 11, 2003, and those megawatts were ultimately split into two, 30-megawatt wind farms — Community Wind North at Lake Benton and Community Wind South in Nobles County.

“I think we stayed true to our values — we wanted local investors,” Benson said.

Community Wind South is owned by 28 investors, many who were on hand for Wednesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony and the celebration that followed at the big barn at Pioneer Village. The evening featured German food and entertainment by the Wendinger Band in honor of German-based juwi Wind. Today, juwi has projects in 15 countries.

Benson gave much credit to Mark Willers, CEO of Minwind Energy, LLC, of Luverne, for partnering with Community Wind South on the project. Minwind will oversee the new wind farm.

Willers was first to speak during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, saying he appreciated everyone who has been a part of the project, from the local landowners to the Community Wind South board.

“All of the towers are up,” he announced as those gathered began to cheer. “The last one was finished last night.”

Michael Rucker, CEO of juwi Wind, was pleased with the completion of the wind farm.

“It’s a fine day in Minnesota,” Rucker said as the wind had people holding onto their caps. “This is just the kind of day we like to see in the wind industry, and that’s why we’re here.”

Rep. Melissa Hortman, Brooklyn Park, was on hand for the event in her new role as chairwoman of the Minnesota House Energy Committee. She will help lead the state forward in its continued quest to advance renewable energy. Minnesota adopted a campaign in 2007 to reach 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

“We’ve come a long way in the state of Minnesota since 2007, but there’s still more we can do,” she said. “I’m anxious to take us to the next step.”

Hortman said she was pleased with the Community Wind South project, not only because of the jobs it created in Minnesota, but because of the community ownership.

“The community will profit from the enterprise as it moves forward, and that’s exciting,” she said.

With some utility companies in the state already ahead of schedule in their push to reach the 25 by 25 goal, Hortman said there is still a lot of potential in the state to expand renewable energy.

“We need to grow the biomass percentage into our energy portfolio, we need to grow solar, and we need to continue to grow wind,” she said. “Wind has been so successful at creating jobs and creating wealth in Minnesota that it’s a good example of how we can continue to move forward.

“We know where we’re going until 2025, and it’s time to chart the course for the future,” she added.

As Minnesota looks ahead, however, things have stalled at the national level. The production tax credit that has fueled growth in wind energy is set to expire at the end of this month, and the potential loss of the credit has wind energy developers holding off projects — juwi Wind included.

“We have projects on the Buffalo Ridge that we’re discussing,” said Aaron Peterson, community relations and regulatory affairs manager for juwi Wind in Minnesota. “The policy is very important — the production tax credit. Through Nobles County and all the way up to Lincoln County, we’ve got prospects.”

Al Juhnke, ag and energy field representative for Sen. Al Franken, said the senator was unable to be present for Wednesday’s ceremony because of the work taking place in Washington, D.C., to avoid the fiscal cliff. Juhnke said Franken wants to see a new five-year farm bill completed before the end of the year, and he’s also pushing for legislation regarding the production tax credit.

“He’s very concerned because he’s seen a lot of these projects now come to a standstill,” Juhnke said. “Everyone’s waiting and watching to see what happens. The Senate has passed it out of the finance committee, and that’s why Senator Franken is asking for it to be included in any agreement. The House is where we’re still working. I’m sure there will be some positive support, both Democrat and Republican, in the House. It’s a bi-partisan issue.”

The Community Wind South project will lead to a handful of permanent jobs in the community. Peterson said the towers will be operational soon.

“They’ll start being turned on on an individual basis as they get certification from the state of Minnesota,” he said. “It’s very technical because it’s electricity. It’s got to be very safe and proper.”

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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