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Area wind farms run regulatory gauntlet

By Staff | Apr 3, 2009

ESTHERVILLE – Despite a bundle of regulations to navigate through, the NorthStar and Red Rock wind projects in Emmet County are on target in as planned, with construction on possibly both projects to start this year.

Al Blum, Estherville Industrial Development Corp. president and chair of both projects, acknowledged that there is environmental opposition to transmission lines for the projects.

The Green Power Express is a proposed 765-kilovolt transmission line that would carry energy from the Dakotas to Chicago. The 3,000-mile project is expected to cost $10 to $12 billion. While North Dakota has the most potential for wind energy in the country, it is currently “off the grid” for getting that energy to major metropolitan markets.

Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis, Minn., company is planning on building a grid to link the NorthStar project with the Twin Cities market. The company reports it is facing opposition by some Minnesota landowners.

They say both transmission lines will actually bring power from coal plants rather than wind.

“The Green Power Express is a huge, huge line,” Blum said. “What people have to understand is we have to have power from wind. What they don’t understand is there have to be changes.”

Blum said the 300-megawatt Red Rock project will count heavily on the Green Power Express. With the 200-megawatt NorthStar project, the two projects will cost $1.25 billion to build.

Blum said NorthStar is walking through a gauntlet of 13 regulatory agencies at all levels – county, state and federal. This includes everything from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Department of Natural Resources which addresses wetlands issues. Blum pegs the cost to NorthStar of walking through the regulations exceeds $1 million.

“None of them are unreasonable,” Blum said of the regulations. “They’re all things that are going to protect the environment.”

Blum said there would be a formal announcement on the NorthStar project over the next 60 days. Construction will last six to eight months. The Red Rock project is still about a year out, he said.

Blum said Emmet and Dickinson counties should realize over $1 million yearly in real estate taxes from the wind projects with another $800,000 paid out each year for landowners’ leases.

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