Organized by RENew Northfield, a non-profit group promoting the development of community wind energy projects, "Ride with the Wind" attracted more than 50 people from Northfield, including St. Olaf and Carleton students, and the broader Twin Cities area to the McNeilus farm. In addition, more than a dozen participants traveled to the farm by bike from Northfield High School and various points between Northfield and Dodge Center.
While visiting the McNeilus Wind Farm, "Ride with the Wind" participants engaged in a question and answer session with the plants management and enjoyed some community bonding time. Then the group toured a few of the sites futuristic-looking wind turbines, including the state-of-the-art NEG Micon NM92, the largest and most powerful wind turbine in North America.
RENew Northfield, which was founded in spring 2001 by Rolvaag Library Loan Services Coordinator Bruce Anderson, hopes the event will generate support for the use of wind energy at Carleton College and the Northfield Public Schools.
"Theres always the possibility that St. Olaf could develop a wind project," Anderson said, noting that "theres plenty of wind here."
Anderson is right, and he is not just talking about the occasional gust on the hill. Minnesota is the fourth-highest ranked US state in wind energy potential, and its neighbor North Dakota is number one. Despite the fact that only six percent of Americas energy is produced by wind, it is the worlds the fastest-growing source of electricity.
The McNeilus Wind Farm, founded in 1998 by philanthropist and former steel magnate Garwin McNelius, is one of the largest private wind-energy operations in the Midwestern United States. Its 39 towering wind turbines collectively generate more than 40 megawatts of electricity, enough to power over 14,000 average households.
According to Anderson, two similar wind turbines tentatively planned for installation in Northfield in coming years could provide power for all Northfield public schools and offset 40 percent of Carleton Colleges electricity usage. Anderson also pointed out that a single 1.65-megawatt turbine would make up for 28 percent of the energy used at St. Olaf.
Although the cost of preliminary studies and turbine installation makes wind power initially expensive, Anderson acknowledges, in the long run it can provide a decent financial return. Carleton College plans to fund a $1.65 million wind turbine with money from its endowment, and expects to pay off the costs and start earning a financial return within ten years of installation. The machines used at McNeilus pay for themselves in seven years while lasting, on average, between 20 and 30 years.
"Wind energy makes a lot of sense, and not just environmentally speaking," Anderson said. "You can also make money doing it."
Although St. Olaf currently has no wind power projects in motion, he encourages students to "let the administration know theyre interested in having St. Olaf take responsibility for its own energy production."