Mower County gets set for its 6th wind farm

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, December 3, 2014

By Jason Schoonover, Austin Daily Herald

AUSTIN — Mower County’s sixth wind farm project is underway, but don’t expect to see new towers until spring or summer.

Renewable Energy Systems Americas’ Pleasant Valley Wind Farm Project kicked off earlier this year, but it will soon likely be winding down for the winter.

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“I don’t anticipate that there will be a great flurry of activities for the rest of the year,” Public Works Director Mike Hanson told the Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Hanson updated the board on the project to build 100, 2-megawatt Vestas turbines over 35,000 acres — 88 turbines in Mower County near Dexter and Sergeant and 12 turbines in Dodge County.

Most of the work this year has centered on access roads to future tower sites, and there’s been work on the tower bases.

Originally, the plan had been to complete all 100 bases and adjoining pedestals — which connect the turbines to the bases — this year. Currently, there are about 68 bases poured, 62 with the pedestals, and Hanson said RES Americas officials has told him crews are now looking to get 72 with the bases with pedestals in before winter weather completely halts the work.

Next spring, the remaining bases will be readied as turbine components begin arriving for construction. RES crews are also working to widen certain intersections in the project area, which will be needed to transport the blades and other tower components.

Farmers involved with the project are also working to divert farm tiles around the tower sites.

The county approved conditional-use permits for the project’s transmission line and substation in March. The county approved similar permitting in 2010, but the project stalled because RES couldn’t find a buyer for the energy — in part because of uncertainty about whether Congress would renew a federal wind production tax credit, a key subsidy for wind energy. Eventually, Congress extended the credit for a year. Then in July 2013 Excel Energy announced its intentions to buy the wind farm once it’s built.

RES is set to start work soon to erect the power lines to run from the substation on County Road 1 to Great River Energy transmission plant at the intersection of County Roads 10 and 1 northeast of Dexter.

Hanson said those power lines could be energized by August, and RES officials have said the plan is for all the towers to be producing by next October.


Road stress

Road damage is to be expected in a project like the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm, but the counties and townships involved are taking a proactive approach.

In May, RES reached an agreement with the Mower County to pay a $198,000 road access fee, and there could be additional payments for potential damage to the roads.

“They do put a lot of stress on the road system,” Hanson said.

The Mower and Dodge commissioners and several township boards all approved similar agreements that address wear and tear to the roads.

“I really have confidence, at this point at least, that the agreement is pretty good,” said Hanson, who added the agreement could be used as a template for other major projects in the future.

RES officials also promised the company will take steps to mitigate dust and other effects for residents.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation took digital and video mappings of the roads, which will be repeated after the project to gauge changes to the roadway. So far at least, the roads are holding up well, but Hanson said they’ve had to address one township road.

Most of the stress will likely be centered on County Roads 1 and 20, along with some on parts of County Road 2 and some township roads, according to Hanson.