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Crews begin assembling a portion of one of the city's two wind turbines Monday near Willmar Senior High School. The 265-foot towers will provide 3 percent of the city's energy needs. Tribune photos by Gary Miller

Construction officially begins on MUC's two wind turbines

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Construction is underway on the first of Willmar Municipal Utilities' two wind turbines. One of the four sections for the 265-foot tower arrived by semi trailer on Saturday. The remaining three sections arrived by semi trailers on Monday.

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Other parts of the turbine will be arriving today or Wednesday. Each turbine has three blades, with each blade measuring 130 feet in length. The blades will be tied to the hub at the top.

"If you laid the tower base at the goal line of a football field, the hub will be on about the 13-yard line,'' said Wes Hompe, staff electrical engineer with the Willmar Municipal Utilities.

Also perched on top of each tower will be the nacelle, which contains the generator and other equipment.

Each tower sits on a concrete foundation measuring 55 feet across in the shape of a stop sign and 11 feet deep. The base of the tower is tied to the foundation with 200 11-foot bolts, each measuring an inch-and-a-half or more in diameter.

The turbines are being erected on land leased by the utilities from the Willmar School District. The site, located along County Road 90 north of Willmar High School, was recommended by a wind study as a good spot for turbines.

Each turbine will generate 2 megawatts of power. The turbines will provide up to 3 percent of Willmar's energy needs and will help the utility comply with state renewable energy requirements.

Hompe said the turbines begin generating power at 8 mph and reach peak production at about 18 mph, staying at full production as wind speed increases. At 55 mph, the units will automatically shut down.

Hompe said the turbines are not connected to the high school. The power will flow to the utility's substation on High Avenue Northeast and be fed into the city's grid system from there.

The towers will be erected with a crane provided by Vic's Crane and Heavy Haul of Rosemount. Hompe describes the crane as a heavily-instrumented, high-tech piece of lifting equipment. Parts of the crane were delivered on 20 semi trailers and assembled at the site.

Assembly of the first turbine should be completed by the end of the week. The second turbine will be delivered next week. After each turbine is assembled, it will be tested to make sure everything works properly, and should be producing power by mid-July, said Hompe.

Some people have been stopping along County Road 90 to watch, but the site is restricted and security is being provided for everybody's safety, said Hompe.

The turbines are budged at $10 million. Hompe said he's been working on this for about seven years.

"It's finally where we're hoping to get some juice out of them,'' he said.

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