A tale of two turbinesIt stands 166 feet tall from base to blade tip and has a generating capacity of 200 kilowatts per hour.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
It stands 166 feet tall from base to blade tip and has a generating capacity of 200 kilowatts per hour.
And since the wind turbine at Great River Energy in Maple Grove was installed last year it has become a destination for all parties interested in alternative energy.
“We’ve had everyone from all sectors of the community inquire about our turbine,” said Mark Rathbun, who is the renewable energy project manager for Great River Energy, which is the second largest electric company in Minnesota.
“From school districts to corporate citizens, they are asking how it works and where they could get one.”
Count the city of Woodbury as one of the interested parties.
The city is not looking to build a turbine itself, but several city staff members and city council members have toured the Great River Energy site in recent weeks in an effort to get a feel for how a turbine might fit into Woodbury landscape.
The city is currently studying turbines as it decides whether to create an ordinance to allow the structures to be built within its borders.
All the local interest in turbines has been generated in recent months after the South Washington County School District informed the city it is proposing to build a wind turbine at East Ridge High School that would be of similar size and scope to the turbine in Maple Grove.
The planned East Ridge turbine, according to District 833 officials, would stand 185 feet in height and would generate up to 225 kW per hour and as much as 40-50 percent of the school’s electricity needs.
The turbine would most likely not be able to hook up to Xcel Energy’s grid, but 833 assistant to the superintendent Mike Vogel said the school district’s consultant doesn’t anticipate the turbine would generate much wasted electricity.
The capital funds to purchase the structure are available as result of the voter-approved school referendum to build the new high school. The district doesn’t have an exact dollar figure for the cost to build a turbine, but district officials said the operating and maintenance costs would be offset by the reduction in electricity bills the school would have to pay.
“Electricity costs for the school will average $200,000 annually.” said Mike Vogel, District 833 assistant to the superintendent.. “So if we’re talking about supplying as much as half our energy needs, the savings will be there.”
But before the school district can build a wind turbine at East Ridge High School, it needs to get approval from the Woodbury City Council.
Balancing pros and cons
Since the school district let the city know of its alternative energy intentions, it has seen mixed reactions to its plans for a turbine.
Members of the city’s environmental advisory commission have shown public support for the proposed East Ridge turbine.
But some residents who live in neighborhoods near the East Ridge High School site on Bailey Road and Pioneer Drive have said they think a wind turbine would have a negative aesthetic affect on the residential area. Others said it could be a safety hazard.
And two property owners who have prospects for developing dozens of new homes just south of the school property have stated their objection to the school’s plan for a turbine.
Those concerns have resulted in a string of field trips that city officials have set up in recent weeks for Woodbury City Council members and planning commissioners to tour the Great River Energy turbine.
Although the case study of the Great River Energy turbine isn’t exactly analogous to the situation Great River Energy faced when the city of Maple Grove reviewed its plan for a turbine, Rathbun said there was some of the same initial concern.
“The turbine itself creates a bit of a landmark, and initially there was some apprehension from some of our neighbors,” Rathbun said, regarding the municipal approval process Great River Energy endured before constructing the turbine in 2007. “For the most part, response has been overwhelmingly positive, especially now that it is up and running.”
The main difference between the proposed East Ridge High School turbine and the one operating in Maple Grove is the respective neighborhoods. The Great River Energy turbine is located in Maple Grove’s busiest commercial district, which is adjacent to the I-94 interchange.
The spinning blades of the turbine generates about 45 decibels of sound, compared to 55 decibels from the nearby freeway traffic, Rathbun said.
The energy company was able to get approval of a conditional-use permit to build and operate the turbine. The permit expires in five years, but can be renewed, Rathbun said.
“As long as the city doesn’t see any problems, we will most likely keep it operating, because it’s a great energy source,” Rathbun said.
Laying the groundwork
District 833’s Vogel said the school district is seeking an approval for the council that will allow it to use the turbine permanently.
“We are looking at this as a long-term investment in our energy needs and providing a model for us to use in educating our students,” Vogel said. “This turbine will allow us to put into practice what we’ve been teaching the kids in the classroom, especially with the demand we’re seeing for alternative energy technology.”
Vogel said the if approved soon enough, the school could construct the turbine in time to be running when East Ridge High School opens in September 2009.
“From our perspective it’s more economical to build it now while we are constructing the school, but from a purely functional perspective, we are putting in the infrastructure to allow a turbine to be built, even if it takes a little bit longer for this process to play out.”