College to propose wind turbine in northwest Decorah

August 28, 2009

Luther College hopes to take a major step forward in its sustainability initiative in 2010 with the installation of a wind turbine that will generate about a third of the electrical energy used by the college each year.

Luther President Richard L. Torgerson and James Martin-Schramm, Luther professor of religion and coordinator of the college’s wind turbine project, will meet with the Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday, Sept. 8 to present the proposal and request approval of a conditional use permit for the project.

The Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will be at 8 p.m. in the large courtroom of the Winneshiek County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.

Luther will ask approval of its plan to install one Vestas V82 wind turbine with 1650 kW electrical nameplate generation capacity on a tract of land owned by Janelle Pavlovec. The site is northwest of the city limits of Decorah and just north of a rock quarry near the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and the Madison Road.

The turbine site was selected because it is has a good wind resource to power the turbine. If constructed, the turbine will be in view of the Luther campus.

The Luther proposal calls for the delivery of the turbine in December 2009 with installation to be completed by June 2010.

“The installation of the turbine will help Luther achieve one of the college’s major sustainability goals, which is to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent while reducing campus electricity consumption,” said President Torgerson. “The project will also serve to educate students and the community about the potential of renewable energy, wind energy in particular.”

Martin-Schramm said Wind Utility Consulting, PC in Jamaica, Iowa has provided the professional engineering and wind resource assessment services for the project and has assisted Luther in preparing the site plan materials for the college’s application for a conditional use permit.

“The request is for a single turbine project,” said Martin-Schramm, “so its impact on county infrastructure would be minimal.”

Luther’s proposal calls for the delivery of major crane, tower, and turbine components on paved road surfaces in the county. The project will require construction of an approximately one quarter-mile long gravel access road on the site.

A temporary three-acre staging area would be developed on the site to assemble the large crane that will be necessary for the turbine erection. 

More than 1,200 Vestas V82 turbines have been installed worldwide, including about 200 in Iowa. The proposed installer for the Luther project is Diversified Energy Solutions in Gary, S.D., the leading supplier of construction management services for distributed wind generation projects in the Midwest. 

Soil boring tests conducted by the Terracon company of Cedar Falls, Iowa, show the site is suitable for the construction of the proposed turbine.

President Torgerson said Luther College is considering two transmission options. One option would bring the power to the Luther campus where it would be consumed or sold to Alliant Energy at Luther’s point of service delivery. 

The second option would involve selling the power to Alliant Energy at an interconnection point at the base of Nor-Ski Hill, west of U.S. Highway 52 and south of the Upper Iowa River. Luther is weighing the costs and benefits of the options.

Wind Utility Consulting projects that a Vestas V82 turbine at the Pavlovec site will generate approximately 4.9 million kilowatt hours (kWh) in net electricity production over the course of one year. This is equivalent to about one third of Luther’s annual electricity consumption. 

The 4.9 million kWh of renewably produced electricity will enable Luther College to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 14.6 percent. Luther recently reduced its emissions by 15.5 percent by conducting and implementing a $1.5 million energy efficiency audit.  

If Luther opts to sell the power to Alliant Energy, the turbine will power more than 445 households in the Decorah area. Alliant ratepayers will benefit from the fixed annual price for the renewably produced electricity, which will be no higher than Alliant’s current average cost to generate electricity at its power plants in the area.

Alliant ratepayers will also benefit from the fact that there will be no fuel-cost adjustments in the future because wind energy is a fuel-free and clean resource.

The Luther proposal notes the environmental impact of the project would be small. Wind Utility Consulting has conducted both noise and shadow flicker studies for the site, which is more than 1,000 feet west of the nearest homes on Valley View Drive.

The noise at the closest home is expected to be below 44 dBA, which is less than the typical ambient noise levels of 45-50 dBA. Traffic on Highway 52 near the homes generates more noise.

Shadow flicker occurs when the turbine’s rotating blades pass through the light from a rising or setting sun. The Wind Utility Consulting study projects shadow flicker would occur less than 100 hours per year, based on no cloud cover. Cloud cover would reduce the levels by about 50 percent.

The study notes that most of the homes along Valley View Drive are in the shadow of trees which would block most of the shadow flicker from the turbine when leaves are on the trees.

Martin-Schramm said neither the turbine installation nor the transmission path would adversely affect the use or future development of the adjacent properties. The transmission line would be installed underground.

The turbine would stand on approximately one-third of an acre of land in an approximately 50-acre crop field, which the landowner rents to a local farmer. The gravel access road will occupy another half-acre in this field.

The turbine should not significantly affect use of the farm land or the nearby quarry, which Wiltgen Construction leases from the landowner. The land immediately north of the site has been placed in a permanent conservation easement by the landowner and cannot be developed. The land immediately east of the site is owned by the state and serves as a buffer for Highway 52.

Martin-Schramm said federal and state laws require the project pose no environmental problems. The construction contractor must secure a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit, which will ensure that no ground or surface waters will be imperiled during construction. 

He said that if Luther decides to bring the power to campus, the contractor must also secure a Joint Permit for Floodplain Construction from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to ensure protection of the Upper Iowa River watershed.  

Wind Utility Consulting projects the turbine will likely cause one or two native bird and three to four bat fatalities per year.

Questions about the project can be directed to Jerry Johnson, Public information Office, Luther College, telephone: (563) 387-1865, email johnsjer@luther.edu.