Like rich farmland and beautiful lakes, wind is a natural resource in Minnesota and is harvested as a renewable energy source in many areas of the state. Over the past ten years, the wind industry has grown throughout Minnesota, boosting rural economic development and diversifying energy fuel resources.
Minnesota’s very early adoption of wind was spurred, in part, by a legislative effort to find an alternative to nuclear power. Financial incentives have made it viable and, now, push is coming from the strong Renewable Energy Standard that requires 25% of power to come from renewable sources by 2025.
Minnesota is currently ranked ninth in the country as a wind resource. The strongest source is along the “Buffalo Ridge,” a 60-mile expanse of rolling hills that includes the southwestern corner of the state. Fenton Wind Project, the state’s largest wind farm, is located there. Seven miles long and seven miles wide, Fenton has 137 turbines and provides Xcel Energy with energy for more than 66,600 homes.
The Buffalo Ridge is also home to MinWind, a community wind project involving a group of nine farmer-owned wind projects. Community wind is commercial-scale development with strong local involvement by way of both ownership and decision making. The economic benefits of community wind projects, where local owners and investors receive revenue from electricity production and sales, can be five times greater than those from wind projects owned by outside investors, where revenue is solely from lease payments, taxes or payments in lieu of taxes. Minnesota is leading the nation with the amount of community wind installed. Not only that, but the participants are diverse: community groups with projects include local small business owners, farmers, schools and universities, Native American tribes, rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and religious institutions.
Speeds greater than 14 mph are necessary to power commercial-scale wind turbines economically, but smaller wind turbines will produce energy using lower speeds. These smaller wind turbines are utilized by homeowners, small businesses and farms to produce energy for on-site use. Some also store excess energy in batteries or sell it to their electric utility.
The nation’s installed wind capacity is currently at 35,000 megawatts — more than tenfold what it was in 1999. Still, wind provided only 1.8% of U.S. power in 2009. Clearly, more wind energy is needed, from turbines of every size. For that to happen, stronger supportive public policy — including increased net metering and transmission capacity, and support for feed-in tariffs for community renewable energy projects — is also needed.
Windustry promotes progressive renewable energy solutions and empowers communities to develop and own wind energy as an environmentally sustainable asset. Through member-supported outreach, education and advocacy we work to remove the barriers to broad community ownership of wind energy.
Wind Energy Basics, Second Edition: A Guide to Home- and Community-Scale Wind-Energy Systems, by Paul Gipe, Chelsea Green, 2009.
The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis, by Greg Pahl, Chelsea Green, 2007.