Friday, February 22, 2008

Minnesotans try cooperative model to get large wind energy projects turning

For some rural Minnesota communities, a wind-power project seemed like a perfect way to spur economic development, but they could not get the projects off the ground on their own. Now they are now having success using a cooperative model with Minneapolis-based National Wind, reports Thomas Lee of The Star Tribune. (National Wind photo shows one of the successful collaborations, a 50-megawatt wind farm in Jeffers, Minn.)

"Cooperatives are nothing to new to farmers, who often pool their crops to gain pricing power," Lee writes. "Today, farmers are increasingly applying the co-op model toward wind power, a booming industry that's attracting plenty of attention from politicians and investors, especially in Minnesota, where lawmakers last year passed a bill requiring energy companies to provide 25 percent of their power through renewable energy by 2025."

National Wind has 15 co-op wind projects in development in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. "Through a joint ownership structure, the company provides financing and wind-power expertise while the farmers contribute land and, perhaps most important, legitimacy to complex wind projects that get bogged down by regulatory hurdles and local sensitivities," Lee writes. "National Wind will typically own 30 percent of the project; the rest belongs to local farmers and landowners."

In the case of a $1.5 billion 600-megawatt wind farm, locals put up $1.5 million and National Wind generates the rest, while charging a one-time fee and securing a percentage of future power produced. With federal and state incentives for wind power, the projects can be lucrative for these rural communities. (Read more; free subscription may be required)

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