Traditional wind plant developers often say their work benefits landowners by providing them with royalty or lease payments. While such an arrangement does provide some benefit to the community, the business model makes little provision for ownership or local participation.
One community-based wind project in Minnesota works on another principle of making the landowners the project owners of their community-based wind farm. The arrangement, for example, at Lake Country Wind Energy LLC (lakecountrywindenergy.com) gives ownership interest to those who donate land to the project along with the opportunity to influence its development. Such community involvement fosters camaraderie and growth within the company and the neighborhood. The business model is to form the LLC so that the land owners need not put money into the project. “With a lease agreement and at least 500 acres, they get a unit of stock in the company,” says National Wind spokeswoman Erin Edholm.
This development model, promoted by National Wind, Minneapolis, also works to build larger wind farms than are usually associated with community-wind efforts. “Lake Country, for example, will begin working on the first of a several phases by building 40 MW of wind power and eventually finish with some 340 MW in a footprint that will cover over 25,000 acres,” says Edholm.
Community wind projects often get started when land owners call a development firm looking for opportunities. “Groups that have tried to go it alone often get stuck in the complexity and turn for assistance to other organizations like ours,” says Edholm. “Then we look to partner with 10 to 20 land owners, people we call founders.
On occasion the founders put capitol in to get the operation rolling. A board of advisors, a smaller number, are appointed from the initial founders. These are local people, so they know the local issues. We meet with them on a regular basis to provide updates and listen to their issues. They are our eyes and ears into the project,” she says.
Occasionally, the board requires changes to the lease. “For example, it could be to the provisions for the setback from a road or building, or how they are compensated for the land use, where access roads are built, or to the underground lines that connect to the grid. Occasional concerns are for how the turbines might interfere with crop farming,” she adds.
Payments to landowners vary with their involvement in the project. Some receive leases for their land and others get acreage payments, an operational payment the land owners get for the acres in the project. Edholm says her company has completed two community wind projects and has 11 more in development.
Lake Country Wind Energy has just over 150 participating landowners and eight board members, all people from the community which is mostly of agricultural land. The project started in the summer of 2008 with a site assessment. “We’ve now collected over a year’s worth of wind data from the footprint’s meteorological tower. With that data, our wind assessments team will be able to place turbines at the most productive locations,” says National Wind Field Specialist Jan Donahue.
The first construction phase will put up 20 REpower 2.0 MW turbines. REpower USA Corp., in Denver, has installed or sold more than 400 wind turbines with a total output of over 800 MW in the U.S. since 2007. These were chosen by competitive bids and from wind studies showing that such turbines of the size selected are best for the wind measured on the sites.
Following construction projects in Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Michigan and California, these are the first wind turbines that the U.S. subsidiary of Hamburg-based REpower Systems AG will deliver to Minnesota.