A Davison County committee has OK'd a conditional-use application to allow a Minnesota-based wind energy company to install a temporary wind tower that will gauge the feasibility of wind turbines between Mitchell and Mount Vernon.
The approval was granted in a 7-0 vote Tuesday night during the Davison County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at the Davison County North Offices in Mitchell. Next, the Davison County Board of Adjustment, which consists of all five county commissioners, will consider the request during an Aug. 11 meeting.
The request comes from Juhl Energy, a Pipestone, Minn., company that builds and operates wind farms in Minnesota, Nebraska and has ownership in a wind farm near Clark, S.D. If a year-long test is successful, the company has plans to come back in 2016 or 2017 to ask the county for approval for a wind farm of 9 to 12 turbines that could cost $40 million and would produce up to 20 megawatts of power. One megawatt can power about 300 average homes, giving the project a capacity of about 6,000 homes.
Corey Juhl, the vice president of Juhl Energy Development, Inc., said the project is on about "step five of 1,000 steps" but sees the Mitchell area as a likely place for a wind farm.
"The wind is good enough," he said. "We know the wind is pretty strong and we have a pretty good idea for the right size machine. It's really a matter of fine tuning which machine we might install here."
The test tower—which would stand 198 feet in the air and would be no wider than a telephone pole—would be located in Beulah Township along 403rd Avenue, or Betts Road near 252nd Street and about halfway between Mitchell and Mount Vernon. The test tower would be located on the northeast part of a parcel of land owned by Brad and Peggy Greenway.
Small anemometers would track the wind speed and will send data back to Juhl Energy every 90 seconds. Juhl said the tower is temporary in nature and a year's worth of data will be collected. Then, the company will reassess.
"The goal is to eventually develop a wind farm in the area, but you need an on-site data point pretty high in the area," he said, adding that because Davison County is pretty flat, the data will be representative of about a 10-mile area for wind development.
Even though the planning commission was only tasked with the temporary tower, the questions moved to the possibilities of a real wind farm. Juhl said his company specializes in community wind projects, which are usually between 10 and 20 megawatts in size, projects that he called "smaller ticket" in nature. But the questions centered on the tax impact and Juhl said he could only provide the most recent project in Clark County as a guide, where $6.5 million in property taxes has been promised over the 20-year lifespan of the project.
"If you do it right, it can be a good thing for the county," Juhl said.
Juhl said there have been preliminary discussions with NorthWestern Energy for a power-purchase agreement for a potential wind farm. The site of the test tower would likely be the center point of a wind farm, he said, because it's in close proximity to a power transmission line owned by NorthWestern that runs from Mitchell to Loomis.
"This is essentially the footprint of where we would like to be at and that midpoint of it is this test tower," he said. "We can hop on that line and sell power."
The planning commission had few qualms with the plan.
"It sounds good. I hope it comes to be," said board member Steve Thiesse.
"If everything goes to plan, we've got a year to consider whether or not we would want wind towers, and whether that's 9 or 12 or more," said county commissioner Kim Weitala.