Seeing a Wind Farm Up Close

By Miranda Adams, Clean Energy Intern, Sierra Club North Star Chapter

This week, Xcel Energy announced 600 MW of new wind energy for the Upper Midwest, including 200 MW projects in Windom and Austin, Minnesota. The cost of these projects combined with the production tax credit means clean energy for Minnesota and is estimated to save Xcel customers $180 million over 20 years.  Last week, I joined a group of environmental advocates and clean energy businesses to visit the Elm Creek 2 wind farm in Jackson, MN to see for myself how a wind farm works.

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As a college student, fighting climate disruption feels like the defining battle of my generation. Unlike many adults currently in power, within my lifetime I will witness and experience more extreme effects of climate disruption, and I know I have to do everything I can to ensure a safe future for myself, my peers, and the generations that follow. Supporting clean energy like solar, wind, and geothermal power is one of the many ways I am working to reduce Minnesota’s carbon footprint and work to mitigate climate disruption.

I wanted to see renewable energy being put into practice. Wind on the Wires, a nonprofit working to bring clean wind energy to the market, organized the trip, allowing folks from numerous environmental groups and clean energy businesses to see how clean energy is being implemented across the state. Wind energy is something we often talk about, but don’t see on a large scale in the Twin Cities.

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The Elm Creek II Wind Farm is a project managed by Iberdrola Renewables, with 62 wind turbines and a capacity of 148.8 megawatts, which is enough energy to meet the annual needs of approximately 40,000 typical American homes. Elm Creek II is one of three wind farms in the Jackson area, along with the Elm Creek and Trimont Area Wind Projects. Not only do these projects bring clean, renewable energy to businesses and homes across southern Minnesota, but they also create important jobs, generate tax revenue, and provide an additional source of income for landowners.

While at the wind farm, we heard from a landowner group that developed the project in partnership with Iberdrola. Many of these landowners have turbines on their property, and all landowners share in the risks and benefits.  For the Elm Creek II project, a group of local landowners came together to buy into a wind project, with every member receiving a payment from Iberdrola for providing land for turbines. Iberdrola provides approximately $1.0 million – $1.7 million annually to local landowners for the Elm Creek II project.

Not only is this a win for the landowners, who are reaping the benefits of clean energy alongside turbine payments, it is a win for the whole community. Every project hires an average local workforce of 100-150 during construction, as well as creating a number of permanent jobs in full time operation, and the influx of workers helps support local businesses. The wind farm also contributes significantly through payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). These payments are allowing townships to plow and repair township roads and lower property taxes.

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As I looked across the farm fields, with towering turbines dotting the landscape, I saw what our future looks like, powering our state with clean, renewable energy. Minnesota has a law requiring 25% of electricity sold to be generated by renewable sources by the year 2025, and wind farms such as the Elm Creek II project can be a way to reach that modest goal.  What Minnesota needs now is a plan for how to move Minnesota completely beyond coal to 100% clean energy.

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