Minnesota Wind Industry Slows Growth in ’09

Minnesota Wind Industry Slows Growth in ’09

Still, planned projects and industry advocates will help ensure that the state's wind-energy future is bright.

Minnesota is prime wind country. The high, flat prairie in the southwestern quadrant of the state is some of nation’s best land to take advantage of winds cutting across North America. Along the Buffalo Ridge near Pipestone, the wind blows, on average, a stiff 16 miles per hour.

In the past half-decade, wind energy producers have found Minnesota a hospitable place to build wind farms. By the end of 2008, Minnesota was many of its peers—ranking fourth nationally in installed wind power despite ranking only ninth in total wind energy capacity.

The Minnesota Legislature deserves some of the credit for compelling the state to meet its potential for wind energy. The Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard, which it amended in 2007, requires that electric utilities supply 12 percent of energy for Minnesota consumers from renewable sources by 2012, 20 percent by 2020, and 25 percent by 2025. Minnesota is well-positioned to meet those mandates and, at the end of 2008, seemed like an unstoppable force in the wind-energy industry.

And then came the Great Recession—and Minnesota’s wind energy fortune was put on hold. The state added just 55.5 megawatts of wind energy in 2009, about 400 fewer megawatts than the prior year. For perspective, one megawatt of wind energy generates enough power for 225 to 300 households to use in a year. Twenty-three states added more generating capacity than Minnesota last year, and the state bumped from fourth to fifth in terms of installed wind power.

Dan Juhl, chairman and CEO of developer Juhl Wind, Inc., says that recovering financial systems and limitations of the Midwest’s power grid have pushed back wind farm development timelines by one to three years. But despite tighter credit and more cautious investors, Minnesota’s wind energy industry hasn’t lost its proponents, which are committed to ensuring that steady growth continues.

Woodstock-based Juhl Wind alone has about 120 megawatts of wind energy construction planned in Minnesota in 2010 and 2011 and about 450 total megawatts planned across the Midwest, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Wind energy is more than a simple numbers game. Juhl says that the government’s advocacy of community-based wind farms has helped drive rural economies. In Pipestone, for example, rapid development of the wind-energy industry—coupled with a new wind turbine plant in town resulted—in the local government scrambling to make up for a housing shortage.

In a good economy or a weak one, the wind will blow—and there will be rural communities ready to reap its benefits, Juhl says.

“We need to do everything we can to leverage that into an economic resource for Minnesota.”