Ask the wind: Dodge Nature Center's new turbine to power education

Visitors to Dodge Nature Center will soon be able to learn more about clean energy technology from the center's very own wind turbine.

The West St. Paul educational hub is moving forward with plans to install a 120-foot tall turbine in the northwest pastures of the property.

West St. Paul isn't known for its gusty tailwinds, and the new feature will play a mostly educational role at the center, according to Director Ben Van Gunde.

The 20-kilowatt turbine will likely rarely, if ever, reach its maximum output. Average wind speeds in northern Dakota County hover between 0-12.5 miles per second at 30 meters, or 120 feet. An area typically needs an average annual wind speed of at least 12-14 miles per second for a wind turbine that is about 100 feet above the ground, according to information from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The center plans to feature the turbine in curriculum and education displays, instead of relying on it for its energy output.

"We really weren't concerned about whether we were in a good wind spot," said Van Gunde.

However, it's expected that the wind turbine will still provide some energy to the grid, reducing the center's energy costs by about $2,500 a year. The turbine will also host wireless Internet antennas from Clearwire, which will pay about $15,000 a year in rent.

The center began planning the project in 2005, but was delayed due to a lengthy fundraising process. The project, from start to finish, will cost nearly $95,000, Van Gunde said, and will be funded almost entirely from private foundation grants.

The turbine will be manufactured in Prior Lake by Wind Turbine Industries Corporation. Chad Palmer, sales and marketing manager for the company, said there has been an increase in educational turbines going up in the state.

Locally, a similar turbine was installed at Apple Valley's School of Environmental Studies in conjunction with the Minnesota Zoo.

Palmer said more education is important to help dispel numerous misconceptions about wind power - particularly the misconception that wind turbines will produce energy regardless of where they are placed.

Palmer added there is little understanding about just how a turbine works, and what they are capable of producing.

"We're just really excited to be able to educate people about clean, renewable energy," Van Gunde said. "It just seems like such a national priority both economically and environmentally. It just feels really good to be doing this."

Danielle Cabot can be reached at 651-748-7815.

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