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Kulm's hopes blowing on wind

KULM, N.D. -- On a windy Friday on a windy ridge in the windiest county of the windiest state in the nation, they broke ground for a wind farm that already is generating hope.

KULM, N.D. -- On a windy Friday on a windy ridge in the windiest county of the windiest state in the nation, they broke ground for a wind farm that already is generating hope.

"This is only the beginning," said Fred Gackle.

It was in his alfalfa field -- two dusty miles south of two-lane state Highway 13 -- that hundreds of LaMoure County residents gathered under a wind-whipped canopy to hear FPL Energy and Otter Tail Power Co. officials express their appreciation for being allowed to raise 14 wind towers supporting turbines that will generate 21 megawatts of electricity for Otter Tail customers in the Dakotas and Minnesota. One megawatt of generating capacity meets the energy needs of about 250 typical North Dakota residences.

FPL Energy -- a division of FPL (Florida, Power & Light) Group of Juno Beach, Fla. -- is the nation's leader in wind energy, with 30 wind farms in 10 states and another six under construction this year.

This $22 million project, known as North Dakota Wind II, is North Dakota's second major wind farm. FPL Energy is building another wind farm north of here, working with Basin Electric Power Cooperative of Bismarck.


Other groups, meanwhile, are planning larger wind farms for the state. Studies have determined North Dakota holds the most potential among the 50 states for wind energy potential. LaMoure County boasts the windiest terrain in the state.

John DiDonato, project director for FPL Energy, said North Dakota is late to the wind energy game but well positioned for the future. "Mainly, it hasn't happened here because of a lack of power users and a lack of transmission," DiDonato said. "In rural areas transmission capacity is the key."

Otter Tail Power Co., a subsidiary of Fargo- and Fergus Falls, Minn.-based Otter Tail Corp., stepped to the plate on this project with the construction of 14 miles of transmission lines to the 88-acre site.

Where FLP Energy raised capital to build the towers, Otter Tail Power signed contracts to buy the energy generated here.

"We were able to work with FLP Energy to put together an economic wind alternative for our resource mix," said Chuck MacFarlane, Otter Tail Power president.

Wind is a new cash crop for Victor Lagodinski, one of four area landowners who signed contracts allowing construction of the towers.

"They're pretty farmer-friendly," Lagodinski said of the towers. "We can farm right around them." The towers represent between $4,000 and $5,000 in new annual income to supplement his revenue from growing soybeans, corn, wheat and barley.

Dennis Anderson, an Edgeley, N.D., implement dealer and board member of Coteau Hills Wind Development LLC, whose membership also includes representation from Kulm and nearby Ellendale, said the wind farm will generate $280,000 in new taxes for the area, much of it going to LaMoure County and the Kulm School District.


FLP Energy is receiving investment tax credits, property tax reduction and sales tax exemptions -- all approved by the 2001 North Dakota Legislature -- for the project.

Area residents clambered into buses and pickups and headed to the Kulm Community Center to further celebrate Friday's groundbreaking with a luncheon featuring roast buffalo, mashed potatoes and cake and ice cream.

The Rev. Paul Johnson of the Kulm Baptist Church, in his dinner prayer, thanked the Lord for the power of the wind.

"When I came here two years ago, the feeling was that this was a dying town in a dying county in a dying state," he said, watching smiling residents form a line for their plates.

"This helps us realize we can become something other than a dying town. It has really sparked some life in the community."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560

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