Wind Power

In 1994, the Minnesota State Legislature ordered 425 megawatts of wind power and 125 megawatts of bio-based energy as down payment on the detailed nuclear phase-out plan proposed by Northern States Power (NSP), now known as Xcel Energy, for storage of 17 nuclear waste dry casks at Prairie Island Nuclear Facility located in Red Wing, Minnesota. From this law, Lake Benton became known as the “Windpower Capital of the Midwest.” As legislation continues to visit the issue of windpower, the number of megawatts continues to rise. As of 2003, Xcel was ordered to produce 825 megawatts of renewable energy. 


The second highest point in southwest Minnesota is located just north of the Lake Benton city limits. Lake Benton is located on the Bemis Moraine, more commonly referred to as the Buffalo Ridge. The ridge is a moraine, which is a pile of sediment (silt, sand, gravel and boulders), that were left at the edge of a glacier. There is a 1.6 kilometer-wide break in the moraine in Lake Benton. There are similar, but less spectacular, breaks in the moraine northwest of the city. The Buffalo Ridge provides the most constant wind speed, averaging 15-18 mph. The Buffalo Ridge is approximately 10 miles wide. It begins in northwestern Iowa and stretches about 60 miles through Minnesota and into South Dakota. It is approximately 2,000 feet above sea level. More that 450 wind turbines grace the skyline along the Buffalo Ridge in Lincoln County, Minnesota.  


Wind developers from around the world flocked to Lake Benton in hopes to cash in on the new crop. The initial step, Phase I, called for 25 megawatts. Kenetech Windpower was contracted to put up the first 25 megawatts. The first turbines, 73 in all, are known as the “Kenetech Turbines” and are now owned by Florida Power and Light. This was a 28 million dollar project. In 1994, they were the largest turbines in the world, reaching 125 feet in the air, the blades were on average 40 feet long and each turbine produced 360 kilowatts of electricity. This was enough to supply the electrical needs of 125 homes. 


In September, 1996, and in April, 1998, Lake Benton Power Partners, LLC (formerly Zond Minnesota Development Corporation II), now known as AES Wind Generation, signed a contract with Xcel Energy to supply Xcel with 211 megawatts of clean windpower capacity for 25-30 years. These projects became known as Lake Benton I and Lake Benton II. To produce that amount of electricity, it took 291 wind turbines. Each turbine produces 750 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to supply the electrical needs of 250 homes. Each tower stands on 415 tons of concrete, they are 168 feet tall, and weigh 124,000 pounds (62 tons). The blades measure 76 feet long and make a complete revolution every two to three seconds. 


In January of 1999, Xcel Energy was mandated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to double its wind power development in the coming years. The PUC ruled that it was “in the public’s interest” and that additional windpower should be developed. Xcel is now committed to 825 megawatts in its resource plan through the year 2015. The new requirements will produce enough energy to power about 100,000 homes. 


The technological advances of the wind turbine have allowed for expansion on the Buffalo Ridge. The next generation of turbines reach up to 400 feet, from base to tip of blade. The blades range from 100-130 feet long. The turbines produce up to 1.8 megawatts of electricity each. Minnesota is in the top 15 states with the greatest wind energy potential, with an estimated 75,000 megawatt potential. That is enough to serve over 25 million people. 


Please tour our “Heritage and Windpower Learning Center of Southwest Minnesota” located at 106 South Center Street, at the Heritage Center in downtown Lake Benton. For further information contact: 507-368-9577 x6. The center is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily and by appointment on Saturday