Lessons & Concepts for Advancing Community Wind, released by The Minnesota Project, seeks to advance the development of community-based wind projects in the United States by drawing keys to success and policy recommendations from three compelling Midwestern case studies.
Wind energy continues to experience double digit growth rates because of the relatively cheap technology and the widespread availability of wind resources, and numerous studies have now shown that locally-owned wind projects produce disproportionate benefits to the local community and region where they are built. This presents community wind energy development as a stand-out opportunity for communities across America to pursue locally-owned projects that will help meet their electricity needs and contribute to energy independence while also providing tremendous economic benefits.
- Section I: Community Wind Case Studies
- Winona County, MN
- City of Willmar, MN
- Miner County, SD
- Section II: Keys to Success
- Visioning & Planning
- Project Leadership
- Involving the Community
- Financing & Pricing
- Section III: Solutions for Advancing Community Wind
- Dispersed Generation Studies
- Siting & Permitting Standardization
- Establishing or Improving C-BED Legislation
- Rural Utility Service Loans
- Investment Tax Credit or Cash Grant
- Net Metering
- Advanced Renewable Tariffs
- Standard Offer Contracts
- Increasing Renewable Portfolio Standards
For decades, Saint Olaf College has been thinking carefully about its energy consumption and impacts on the environment. On the 19th of September 2006, a 1.65 megawatt turbine became a symbol of its commitment to sustainability.
Pete Sandberg, the man who spearheaded the college's effort to erect its own turbine, came to St. Olaf in the 1980s and currently serves as the Assistant Vice President for Facilities. Since he arrived at St. Olaf, Sandberg has been involved in numerous efforts to reduce the college's impact on the environment. As early as the 1980s, St. Olaf considered restoring its land to the condition it was in before European settlement. Long before the current level of concern about climate change, Sandberg and his colleagues realized that sequestering carbon in the soil and vegetation would have been an added benefit of this conservation and restoration initiative.
An Independent Grid
In the 1990s, St. Olaf took proactive steps to upgrade its electrical supply and distribution system. In 1999, the college installed three diesel generators, which can produce up to 4.2 megawatts of electricity. St. Olaf also upgraded its internal electrical distribution system from to a 13.8kV line that loops through campus in an underground tunnel. Thanks to these investments, St. Olaf can provide electricity to almost all of its buildings even in the event of a blackout. The ability to do so allows the college to qualify as an interruptible customer and to take advantage of lower rates from its electric utility, Xcel Energy. As a result, the college saves about $150,000 every year on its electricity costs. In addition to benefiting from lower energy bills, these investments later played a key role in helping St. Olaf optimize the use of its own wind turbine.
The Seed Was Planted
In the early 2000s St. Olaf began to explore a future for wind energy on its campus, and the idea of installing a wind turbine grew out of both conviction and practicality. At the time, the college was in the early stages of planning a new 100,000 square-foot science center that would consume a significant amount of electricity. Despite pursuing LEED certification and maximizing energy efficiency, Sandberg and staff had been left to wonder how they might further reduce the operating cost impact of adding this new building to the campus grid. On-site renewable generation emerged as a potential alternative to buying more electricity from Xcel.
Plans for the wind turbine gained momentum in 2003. That spring, Honor the Earth and the Indigo Girls came to St. Olaf to launch a national tour aiming to raise money and create a groundswell of awareness and support for wind projects on Native American lands. The event also generated interest among students to begin exploring how they might sustainably harness wind energy on their campus. Little did they know, Sandberg was already one step ahead, having passed on to the administration an initial proposal to construct four wind turbines at St. Olaf.
Getting the Money and the Machine
Planning for the wind turbine began in earnest when Sandberg applied to the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund in response to their second request for proposals in 2004. While St. Olaf ultimately received funding, this proved to be a mixed blessing. While the college waited for the Public Utilities Commission to approve their grant contract, the federal government renewed the production tax credit which unleashed a burst of wind energy development activity. As a result of the high demand and tight supply, what Sandberg originally projected to be a $1.9 million project rose to over $2.5 million. Undeterred, St. Olaf gladly accepted the $1.5 million grant and paid upfront for the remaining costs out of their capital operating budget.
The Economic Benefits
St. Olaf worked with Windlogics, a wind resource assessment company, and determined a feasible site less than a quarter of a mile northwest of campus. The proximity made it economically feasible to connect the wind turbine to the campus' internal distribution loop, which paid off in a major way. By interconnecting with the campus grid, St. Olaf is able to consume the wind-generated electricity on-site and therefore reduce their energy imports from Xcel. The school only sells excess wind energy to Xcel at night and during break periods, when campus demand is low.
This arrangement translates into a significant financial advantage. Instead of selling their entire production to Xcel for the standard small wind tariff of 3.3 cents/kWh, St. Olaf reduces its purchases from Xcel which are set at a rate of 6.2 cents/kWh. As a result, the school is able to save about $250,000 per year on electricity bills. Since this dwarfs the $36,000 in operation and maintenance that the school pays in its service contract for the turbine, St. Olaf expects to recuperate its initial capital investment four to five years after the turbine blades began to spin.
Bumps in the Road
The road to acquiring their own turbine has not been without surprises or setbacks. While awaiting a decision from the Renewable Development Fund, not only did the project's capital costs spike, but the company from which St. Olaf originally planned to purchase a turbine, NEG Micon, was acquired by Vestas. Consequently the school had to re-enter negotiations with Vestas and ultimately sign a more expensive service contract. Accepting the grant set limits on St. Olaf in other ways, too. One of the conditions required St. Olaf to pass all environmental attributes of the wind energy, sometimes called green tags or renewable energy credits, to Xcel. Furthermore, St. Olaf was also not eligible for the Minnesota Renewable Energy Production Incentive, which ceased accepting new applicants in 2005. A final surprise came after the turbine went up and production numbers failed to meet the projections. Initial estimates projected 6 million kWh of energy would flow from the turbine each year, but annual figures to date have averaged about 4.5 million kWh-roughly a quarter of the school's yearly electricity consumption. Luckily, though, this underperformance has not significantly impacted the financial viability of the project, which remains on-schedule to pay for itself by 2011.
Overall, Pete Sandberg considers the St. Olaf wind turbine an unequivocal success. It stands tall as a source of pride for the school and a highly visible symbol of the college's commitment to the environment. The wind turbine also offers learning opportunities for professors to incorporate into their courses. Sandberg is regularly called upon to give tours to groups who come to learn about wind energy from greater Northfield and beyond. Indeed, St. Olaf serves as a model for many other campuses around the country that contact Sandberg to learn how they might replicate his success. Although St. Olaf currently has no plans to add another turbine, the one they already have is not likely to fade into oblivion. The campus plans to transform the site of the turbine into a living model of sustainability. Student groups will practice organic agriculture on some of the surrounding farmland, and nearby a new building covered in solar panels will house art studios and produce enough electricity to meet on-site needs and feed excess into the St. Olaf grid.
These case studies are from the Iowa Energy Center. Click here to view the case studies.
Staples Residence, New Providence, IA (PDF 1.48 MB)
Akron-Westfield Schools, Akron, IA (PDF 174 KB)
Ashler Residence, Hamburg, IA (PDF 645 KB)
Clarion-Goldfield Schools, Clarion, IA (PDF 185 KB)
Eldora-New Providence Schools, Eldora, IA (PDF 170 KB)
Forest City Schools, Forest City, IA (PDF 171KB)
Hawkeye Dental, Ely, IA (PDF 1.23 MB)
Montgomery Residence, Bryan, IA (PDF 567 KB)
Neppel Energy, LCC, Armstrong, IA (PDF 236 KB)
Spirit Lake Schools, Spirit Lake, Iowa (PDF 151 KB)
Tjaden Farms, Charles City, IA (648 KB)
Tran Lam Residence, Vinton, IA (PDF 712 KB)
On June 16, 1997, Sacred Heart Monastery began producing electricity from wind turbines. They had installed two, used Silver Eagle wind turbines with Micon internal workings. At the time they ventured into this project, just about everyone told them it was a “bad” idea.
This story is chronicalled on the The Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery Website
Small Wind Turbines in Illinois
Kendall County, Illinois
Gary Kizior installed a 10 kW Bergey turbine in December 2002, replacing his old Whisper 3 kW machine. It sits on the same 80-foot tip-up tower that Whisper machine used. This project was half funded by the Illinois Renewable Energy Resources Grant Program and was among the first small turbines in the state to receive a grant through this program.
Gary chose a Bergey Excel 10 kW generator with a 23-foot diameter rotor because it had a reputation for quality and being low maintenance. There are no regular lubrications required and he anticipates very low costs for upkeep and repair in the future. The turbine cost approximately $20,000.
Gary applied to the Illinois Department of Commerce for funding in July of 2002. Two months later he learned that his application had been approved and after submitting some additional paperwork he received his check in a few weeks. Wind turbines from 5 kW to 200 kW currently are eligible for grants for up to 50 percent of the hardware and installation costs through this state program.
This project took advantage of the exemption from zoning restrictions for agricultural projects in agriculturally zoned areas of the state of Illinois. This is a low-hassle route for farmers interested in small wind turbines.
Gary has a wind anemometer mounted 65 feet off the ground on the 80-foot tower. Data collected last year showed the annual average wind speed at this height to be 9.5 miles per hour. However, according to Gary, 2002 was a lower than average wind year, especially during the winter. The Bergey Windpower website has a calculator designed to model cash flow and payback periods for Bergey products. The calculator shows that an average annual wind speed of 9.5 mph will yield a yearly production of 7,923 kilowatt-hours, or an average monthly output of 660 kilowatt-hours. This figure is based on an open site for the turbine free of obstacles to the wind. Gary's site and electrical configuration produces a little bit less than this estimate. He uses a transformer and existing inverter to charge batteries at the same time. These both consume power and reduce the amount he can sell to Commonwealth Edison through the company’s net metering program.
Gary reports that he is saving approximately $500-$600 per year in electricity costs. ComEd reduces his monthly bill by the avoided cost rate (approximately $0.02 per kilowatt hour) for the energy that he generates. Then at the end of the year ComEd calculates the total amount of electricity he used and amount of electricity he generated at the summer and winter peak and off peak rates, resulting in ComEd sending a check for the additional amount. In the end, he will average closer to $0.09 per kilowatt-hour for the electricity he offsets by generating his own power. Simple payback on such a system is 15-20 years, after the grant award. This payback is for the turbine only; Gary used an existing tower and electronics and the cost of those is not included in this analysis. Bergey advertises their turbine and inverter as $22,900 and an 80-foot tower that tips up is $8,400. Labor would cost extra if you don’t do all the work yourself.
This project demonstrates one of the best scenarios available for landowners interested in buying a small turbine in Illinois. Gary was able to use both of the state’s strongest incentive programs for small wind turbines: ComEd’s net metering program and the state grant program. Illinois residents outside ComEd’s territory might still be eligible for the state grants if they live in the service territory of another investor owned utility. However, they will not be eligible for net metering and could only expect to receive the avoided cost rate for their excess electricity. Receiving roughly $0.02/kWh rather than closer to $0.09/kWh would significantly lengthen the payback period for the turbine.
From the US Department of Energy Cast Study on wind development on the Rosebud Reservation:
"Since the late 1990s, the tribe has been actively pursuing wind development on the Rosebud Reservation. In March 2003, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe commissioned a single 750 kW NEGMicon Vestas wind turbine, which has come to be known as the Little Soldier (Akicita Cikala) turbine, in respect to the vision of Alex "Little Soldier" Lunderman and his contribution to this effort. This turbine was the result of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant awarded in late 1999, along with a matching U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service Loan. With the assistance of a developer and the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy (ICOUP), the RST applied for and received a DOE grant to develop a 30 MW wind farm. This resulted in the development of the Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm. After five years, this wind farm's development is almost complete, with the exception of a signed power purchase agreement (PPA) and the resulting interconnection agreement. This signed agreement will enable the completion of the wind farm. The RST shall act as a passive landowner, reaping a percentage of gross receipts based on Grant of Use and Lease Agreement agreed upon by action of the RST Tribal Council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs."
2010 Project Update
"The Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST) and Citizens Wind will complete the required pre-construction activities necessary to secure funding for the proposed 190 MW North Antelope Highlands wind farm, including identification of power purchasers, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting requirements, transmission and interconnection studies, and subsequent interconnection agreements required to deliver energy to a specific set of potential purchasers. This project will result in delivery of all required environmental and cultural studies, permits and contracts sufficient to secure project financing."
Read more about Tribal Energy Programs at the US Dept of Energy
Windshare is a unique, for-profit, wind power cooperative in Toronto, Canada. They have an urban turbine in Toronto, and were the first community owned wind in Ontario.
Learn more on the Windshare website.
Our Wind Cooperative is a unique cooperative investing in small-scale wind turbines for farms, ranches and public and private facilities across the rural Northwest. By the end of 2004, at least ten 10-kW turbines will have been installed at sites serviced by publicly-owned utilities.
Visit www.ourwind.org for more information.
From the Great River Energy Press Release
Trimont, Minn. - The Trimont Area Wind Farm, the nation’s largest landowner-developed wind farm, was officially dedicated on Saturday, July 8 at the Trimont Chocolate Festival. Generating enough electricity to serve the annual energy needs of nearly 29,000 Minnestoa homes, the wind farm consists of 67 wind turbines, each nearly as tall as a 30-story building.
The project, developed and operated by Portland-based PPM Energy, provides power to Great River Energy, which distributes the renewable energy to member electric cooperatives throughout Minnesota.
“This project is a significant step that will help spur the creation of homegrown, renewable energy in our state and in our region,” said Jon Brekke, vice-president, member services, Great River Energy. “The land continues to be owned and farmed by local landowners, and energy customers throughout the state will benefit from the wind energy produced at the Trimont Area Wind Farm.”
Tim Seck, business developer, PPM Energy, adds: “The Trimont Area Wind Farm has become a model for community wind across the country, and we hope to replicate the success elsewhere as well as expand Trimont.”
The wind farm generates up to 100 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable energy. Forty-three landowners in the area partnered with PPM Energy and Great River Energy to develop the project, which will help Great River Energy meet the Minnesota Renewable Energy Objective, calling on electric utilities to produce 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015.
The project will generate more than $1 million in local economic impact to the Trimont area in the form of taxes, easement payments, landowner revenue participation payments and jobs.
Neal VonOhlen, chief manager of the Trimont Area Wind Farm and a local farmer, notes his satisfaction with the project saying, “As a Minnesota farmer, I understand the value of wind energy to my farm, my community and the importance of it to our partners in the project. We’re incredibly excited to dedicate the wind farm, and look forward to producing energy for many years to come.”
Wind energy is the fastest growing energy source, with an annual average growth rate of more than 35 percent since 2001.