Gustavus students in the January-term course The Future of Sustainability visited Lake Benton, Minnesota, to gain a better understanding of wind power. Lake Benton is located on “Buffalo Ridge” in southwest Minnesota–a windy area with over 800 wind turbines which calls itself the “wind power capital of the Midwest.”
According to the Department of Energy, in 2006 Minnesota got most of its electricity from burning coal (62 percent) and by nuclear energy (25 percent). Wind power is an exciting way to generate electricity because, unlike burning fossil fuels and running nuclear reactors, it is a renewable energy source.
After visiting Lake Benton, we can attest to the fact that there is a lot of wind and it appeared to be relentless! Average wind speed on Buffalo Ridge is 12-15 mph. Locals consider 40-mph winds to be “breezy.”
Most of the wind turbines on Buffalo Ridge are owned by companies from outside of Minnesota. Local residents profit from leasing land for the turbines, from the tax revenue generated, and from the jobs created. Currently, the local government is working to find ways to help area residents own the turbines themselves. At about two million dollars a piece, however, investing in a new turbine is not cheap. Despite this, the Lake Benton area expects to double the number of turbines on Buffalo Ridge in the coming years.