Energy

A Plan To Build The Largest Wind Turbines In Minnesota Is Facing Blowback From Locals

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter

Minnesota residents are fighting back against a proposal to build skyscraper-sized windmills near a popular lake, a development they argue would be environmentally damaging, loud and an eye sore.

Renewable Energy Systems, a U.K.-based renewable energy company, wants to build 44 wind turbines in Yellow Medicine County, an area in southwestern Minnesota that sits next to the South Dakota border. If completed, the wind farm — which is named the Bitter Root Wind Project — would generate around $700,000 a year in tax revenue and help the state inch closer to its renewable energy targets.

However, there is one major concern with the proposed wind turbines: They are enormous.

Standing nearly 570 feet from ground level to the tip of their blades, the turbines are as tall as a 40-story building. The windmills, which would produce nearly three-and-a-half megawatts of electricity each, would be the most powerful Minnesota has ever seen. Renewable Energy Systems’ bid to construct the gigantic turbines near Lake Cochrane, a popular lake near the Minnesota-South Dakota border, has neighbors fuming. (RELATED: Residents Are Worried A Solar Array Could HURT The Environment)

“We will do everything we have to do,” said local resident Ron Ruud to Minnesota Public Radio. “Because it will absolutely destroy Lake Cochrane’s environment. It just doesn’t fit. It’s an intrusion.” Ruud and others are trying to keep regulators from approving the Bitter Root Wind Project by spreading awareness.

“Most of the people on the lake don’t even understand how massive these things are yet,” he went on. “We’re starting to show some pictures and they’re going, ‘holy cow! We had no idea.’ Yeah, it’s shocking.”

In response to the backlash, the Bitter Root project developer, Michelle Matthews, said Renewable Energy Resources is doing “the best that we can to really minimize the impacts” and has chosen to drop the turbine site closest to the lake. Additionally, aircraft safety lights atop the windmills will only blink if a plane is nearby.

For Minnesotans who stand opposed to turbines in their neighborhood, both renewable energy advocates expect more wind energy development in the state. Peder Mewis, a regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, said these type of massive turbines could become a trend.

Minnesota churned out nearly 10.9 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2017, ranking it eighth in the U.S. in electricity generation from wind energy, according to the Energy Information Administration. State leaders appear to be eyeing an increase in renewable energy mandates, with outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton calling on the legislature to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 50 percent by 2030.

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