UW-RF study looks at wind power possibilities
Is there enough strong, steady wind at the university's Mann Valley Lab Farm in the town of Troy to justify building commercial turbines that could supply half the campus's energy needs?
That's what a study underway will show. The report is due by Dec. 1.
Mike Stifter, UW-River Falls director of facilities management, says the idea was spurred by the university's off-the-grid energy goals. That not only means being more self-sufficient but using sustainable energy sources.
"As a campus and given some of our land resources, we're likely more uniquely poised to look at a wind project than many campuses," Stifter said. "It would indeed go a long way in terms of providing clean, renewable energy."
Energy-producing wind turbines would also bring learning benefits.
"The educational opportunities are there in small and big ways," Stifter said. "In small ways, I would anticipate educational kiosks for the passive learners as well as more advanced opportunities for actual classes to programs built around renewable energy."
The $40,000 study is being done by Spicer, Minn.-based Windations, a firm that helps plan and guides the construction of community wind farms. Founded in 2006, the company recently completed a wind-energy project for the building of two turbines for the municipal utility of Willmar, Minn.
Part of that process is a "site location assessment," which involves making sure there are sufficient and sustainable wind conditions for the Mann Valley site. The study will also check civil engineering, electrical interconnection and permit requirements.
Windations has opened an office at Gill Design, 122 N. Second St. in River Falls, as it carries out the assessment process.
The assessment will be made at UW-RF Mann Valley Laboratory Farm. The lab farm, with more than 290 acres, has beef, sheep and swine operations, and recently opened a state-of-the art Dairy Learning Center.
Stifter said there's room on the wooded north hill overlooking the lab farm for two wind turbines to operate.
"We think it would fit nicely," he said. "Once we work through initial construction, which would minimally require a temporary road to the top of the hill, generally all of the land would then go back to its pre-construction purpose.
"The initial concepts do a nice job of maintaining all of the grazing, pasture and fields that are there. The site is actually quite favorable for up to two turbines."
The wind turbines and their rotating blades would measure about 400 feet high.
Stifter says the project's estimated building cost is $7.5-$9 million. Most of the money would come from the state in the form of "energy funds" or from the capital budget.
"Because the turbines would actually generate revenue due to selling the wind power back, it's anticipated it would pay back well before the life expectancy of the turbines are reached," Stifter said.
The River Falls Municipal Utilities and WPPI, the regional public power consortium that includes River Falls, would have roles to play.
"Transmission and distribution would likely be the most obvious role," Stifter said. "But there are a number of behind-the-scenes in terms of support, consulting and negotiations that they have (already) assisted with thus far.
"...To get into the electrical generation business at this level will require a lot of consideration and perhaps as much of that on a state level. For the campus, it also has to fit within our strategic plan as well as overall campus master planning efforts."
Once the study is made public in December, Stifter said there will be a series of "town-hall style" meetings to discuss the topic, both on campus and off.
If the project was approved and funding received, wind-turbine construction could occur in two years. Stifter said it would take 3-6 months to build.
How likely is it that the wind turbines will be built?
"The prospects are promising, but even if viable, a number of circumstances need to be understood and agreed upon before the wind turbines would be sited," Stifter said. "This would be a unique project, not only for UW-RF, but also for the state."