Prairie winds generate $

Minnesota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1992  | October 1992 issue

Marshall, a regional center of 15,000 in southwest Minnesota, is rapidly becoming a center for wind power development.

The community is the home of one company that plans to manufacture and sell wind power equipment, Minnesota Windpower Inc., and another that will capture the wind and sell the resultant energy, Northern States Power Co. (NSP).

The reason Marshall is enjoying a boom in wind power development is its location on Buffalo Ridge, a long region of higher elevation running diagonally from the Brookings, S.D., area across Minnesota into Iowa. With elevations reaching nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, combined with open prairie to all sides, the ridge is the windiest part of Minnesota and one of the few suitable sites for large-scale wind power in the state.

NSP installed three small wind turbines between Pipestone and Marshall as a pilot project in 1986, feeding into its own distribution system, and Minnesota Windpower erected five turbines earlier this year to produce power for Marshall's municipal utility.

In August, NSP announced its decision to move from its small trial efforts to construction of 500 wind turbines in the same area by the end of the decade. According to Glynis Hinschberger, NSP's manager of energy- resource planning, the utility will request proposals and bids for construction of an initial 5 megawatts of capacity, or 25 turbines, before the end of the year, with construction to take place in 1993.

While the eventual 100-megawatt installation would be one of the largest in the United States outside California, it will still represent less than 2 percent of NSP's generating capacity.

Construction of these facilities will provide economic stimulus for the area, says Don Juhl, president of Minnesota Windpower. The area is highly dependent on agriculture and suffered erosion of its economic base as well as its population during the 1980s. NSP's project represents an investment of over $100 million in equipment and construction. "Two employees are needed for operation and maintenance for each 100 turbines once construction is completed and the machines are operating," Hinschberger says.

NSP also needs a number of different sites for its wind development, according to Hinschberger. "We will lease or buy sites from area landowners" she says.

Minnesota Windpower represents a different segment of the growing wind generating industry. It manufactures and erects turbines of its own design as well as sells larger machines currently manufactured in Denmark. Currently the firm employs 13 people at its Marshall plant. Juhl says that number should double once their new manufacturing facility is completed in October. "We will make everything except the gearboxes here in Marshall."

Edward Lotterman