University of Minnesota officials hoped to have a wide-ranging discussion July 29 on the future of alternative energy on the school's UMore Park property. But the residents who showed up for the meeting seemed to have a more specific focus.
Nearly all of the discussion during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting focused on the 2.3 megawatt turbine that will be built later this year on the property. Funded by a $7.9 million grant from the United States Department of Energy, the massive windmill will turn the property into a laboratory focused on improving the future of wind energy.
A few of the questions asked last week focused on the electricity generated by the turbine, though University officials have stressed that the project is dedicated to research rather than feeding the power grid. Because of the research focus the turbine will have to be taken offline frequently and will not be a reliable source of power.
Other residents were concerned about the potential negative impacts of the turbine. One of the focuses of the research planned for the turbine will be reducing the noise such structures create. That had some residents concerned about noise, but people involved with the project said that will not be an issue. A lone turbine such as the one planned for the UMore property will not generate any more noise than Highway 52, and with the nearest homes more than half a mile away, researchers don't expect noise to be an issue.
That distance to the nearest homes should also help eliminate any negative effects from flicker, the shifting shadows cast when the setting or rising sun shines through the spinning turbine blades.
The UMore site is not particularly windy, leading some in the audience to wonder about the value of building the turbine there. But researchers said the lack of strong winds makes the site ideal. As wind energy becomes more important nationally, they said, it will become vital to find ways to get the most out of calmer areas like UMore.
Some in the audience last week raised concerns about the planned turbine, but at least one visitor was concerned there were not more turbines planned. She said such alternative-energy sources are a selling point as she looks for a place to live.
Dakota County Technical College president Ron Thomas spoke at last week's meeting. DCTC is a partner in the project and will have a smaller turbine on its property for its students to use. There was also talk last week about getting elementary, middle and high school students involved.