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The future of farming is in the wind

By: Michael Koob, staff writer

April 10, 2002

Murray County News photo/Michael Koob 
 Senator Wellstone expresses his views about wind energy.
Senator Wellstone expresses his views about wind energy.
Murray County News photo/Michael Koob
Murray County News photo/Michael Koob 
 A small wind turbine and a solar panel provide electricity to the service building.
A small wind turbine and a solar panel provide electricity to the service building.
Murray County News photo/Michael Koob
A group of approximately 50 people met at the windfarm's service building
United States Senator, Paul Wellstone visited the Woodstock Wind Farm Friday afternoon. A group of approximately 50 people met at the windfarm's service building to listen to Wellstone and ask questions.

The owner of the wind farm, Dan Juehl started the meeting by talking about the importance of wind power. "Wind power is not the total answer, but it is a serious part of the mix," he said. He went on to tell the audience that the building they were in was completely self-contained. The electricity needed to run its lights, computers and cornburner comes from a small wind turbine and some photovoltaic solar panels on the roof. The large wind turbines on his farm supply enough electricity to meet the annual needs of approximately 3,000 homes.

Wellstone started his talk by praising Juehl's efforts. "I love what you're doing. At one time I thought Dan was a dreamer. Now I see him as a realist." He said that wind energy is a great small business opportunity for rural Minnesota.

Juehl explained that he is in negotiations with Xcel Energy to provide more output capabilities for the area. He said that one plan is to run a large line along I-90 from the Pathfinder Station, east of Sioux Falls to the Lakefield Junction. "This increased output capacity would open it up for farmers and small businesses to become energy producers," Juehl explained. Wellstone expressed dismay about the pollution from fossil fuel energy plants that was killing Minnesota's lakes and streams. He gave the example of limitations on fish consumption for pregnant women and children. Juehl further plead the case quoting a study that listed the local rural electric coop that serves the Woodstock area is "the worst polluting energy producer per kilowatt hour in the country."

Tom Ahrens told Wellstone the most important thing he can do to promote farmer owned wind farms is to help them take advantage of the $500,000 federal tax credit per tower. He said most farmers do not have enough passive income to take full advantage of the credit and suggested that lawmakers declare schedule F income passive income. Ahrens also asked why wind could not be categorized through the USDA as a commodity. He explained that this would give the farmer access to low interest loans. Juehl agreed, pointing out the window and stating, "That's just a big combine 200 feet in the air that produces a product."

Wellstone chuckled as he declared that this issue was one of the rare times that the farmers and the environmentalists would be on the same side.

A member of the audience, who was in the initial stages of starting a wind farm, asked Juehl how much money he could plan on making for his venture. "Between $30,000 and $50,000 per tower to the farmer," Juehl responded. Someone in the background chimed in, "That's better than we do now." "And it doesn't stink," another person added.

Juehl explained that all the towers northwest of his farm were owned by Florida Power and Light. Others in the area are owned by Louisville Power. He reiterated how important it was to keep the large conglomerates out and open the opportunity up to local farmers.

When asked if the towers would hold up to a tornado, Juehl answered, "Never in 25 years have we lost one." He explained that the machines were built in Denmark. In an effort to bring industry to Minnesota, Juehl negotiated with the Denmark manufacturer to have the towers built by a company in Porter, Minnesota.

According to the National Wind Technology Center, U.S. Wind generation has reached 3.5 billion kilowatts of electricity per year. That's enough to meet the annual needs of one million people. It is estimated that North Dakota Winds alone can generate enough energy to supply 36 percent of the electricity of the lower 48 states.

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