WILMONT — More than 100 people filled the Wilmont Community Center Wednesday night for a presentation on the upcoming Nobles 2 Wind project.
Tenaska — the Omaha-based owners of the wind turbine project — plans to build anywhere from 65 to 82 wind turbines throughout a 42,000-acre section of northern Nobles County, generating up to 260 megawatts of renewable energy. Assuming all goes to plan, construction should start in late 2018 or early 2019.
The company will invest between $350 million and $400 million into the project, creating an additional $1.1 to $1.3 million in local tax revenue and $1.5 million in lease payments to landowners annually, according to Scott Seier, vice president of Tenaska’s Strategic Development and Acquisitions Group. Seier said the project will create roughly 230 temporary construction jobs and another 15 full-time jobs to maintain the turbines.
Of only a handful of public comments made at the meeting — staff from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission were in attendance to record them — the majority were from area residents asking that those 230 jobs be made up of local Minnesota workers.
Nate O’Reilly, representing area construction workers, said jobs are far too often outsourced for projects in southwest Minnesota, even though workers in the area have the expertise to do them. He asked that Tenaska make the commitment to hire locally and that the PUC consider adding local hiring as a requirement to the project’s site permit. O’Reilly also mentioned that the Blazing Star wind farm in Hendricks has committed to hiring local Minnesota workers.
Stacey Karels of the Mankato labor union backed O’Reilly and noted that wind farm construction jobs are often the start of a good, high-paying career for southwest Minnesota residents.
Roger Krueger, a Tracy resident with decades of experience on wind farm construction, agreed.
“Good-paying jobs, retirement, benefits, that’s what we need for people here in rural America, southwestern Minnesota,” Krueger said.
Also during the meeting, area residents expressed concern that the towers would disrupt cell phone and broadband service.
Eric Joens, a Bloom Township resident, cautioned that other wind farm projects have created dead zones — where cell service drops — north of Reading. He said wind turbines have disrupted the service from Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co.’s wireless broadband connection on the Wilmont water tower.
“Being on the east side of that water tower and the east side of the potential wind farm, we could lose our connectivity to broadband,” Joens said, asking that Tenaska add a repeater tower east of Wilmont to help fix the connectivity problem.
Nobles County resident Lisa Onken backed Joens up, adding that her home office connection could be disrupted by the project and that she doesn’t want the efforts of state and local officials to expand broadband to rural Nobles County residents to go to waste.
“I just want to make sure that we don’t take three steps forward, one step back because we have to build wind towers that block this,” Onken said.
Representatives of Tenaska did not respond to comments during the meeting, but Seier later offered statements to The Globe on the concerns raised at the meeting.
On local hiring, Seier said Tenaska will encourage its contractor to hire locally when practical and noted Tenaska hired 70 percent local workers for a 2013 solar energy project in southern California.
On internet interference, Seier said Tenaska will perform a baseline survey prior to construction that assesses the potential change in over-air-communications and will address any changes it finds.
Another public meeting is planned this summer, likely in June, after the state has completed an environmental impact report. Area residents have until March 20 to send their comments to the state. Comments can be emailed to David Birkholz at firstname.lastname@example.org, faxed to (651) 539-0109, mailed to 85 Seventh Place E., Suite 500, St. Paul, or filed online at mn.gov/puc.