Marshall, MN – Southwest Minnesota’s Trimont Area Wind Farm, LLC, generates 100 megawatts of electricity annually.

With 43 members, it is the largest landowner developed wind enterprise in the nation, providing enough power for about 29,000 homes.

But TAWF board member Richard Peterson says the early stages of developing the wind farm were rocky, and the company would have benefited with a better blueprint. “We were pretty naive,” says Peterson, who farms near Mountain Lake.

“We thought we could just put the turbines up and put it all together. But it’s a risky business to get into.”

Issues such as federal tax credits, power purchase agreements, land easements and wind rights faced landowners designing the project. TAWF eventually signed with PPM Energy of Portland, Oregon to develop and operate the farm and help navigate the complex waters of building a wind farm.

Despite the steep learning curve, the community-based farm has been providing electricity to Great River Energy since November 2005 and Peterson says the project could serve as a model for others.

Peterson chairs AURI’s Center for Producer-Owned Energy board, which is providing community-owned wind projects with tools for making good business decisions. The Energy Center is collaborating with the Southwest Initiative Foundation, Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council and the Minnesota Rural Energy Board to develop the “Community Wind Development Handbook,” a decision aid for groups that want to start community-based wind farms.

The handbook, which should be available by mid November, will identify issues to consider and pitfalls to avoid. Geared for 2 to 50 megawatt plants, it “will outline examples of appropriate business and ownership structures, permitting and government approval considerations, financial, legal and accounting considerations,” says Dennis Timmerman, AURI project director. “It will also address marketing issues like power purchase agreements and production tax credits, because there are a lot of factors to consider.”

Minnesota has the nation’s fourth-highest level of installed wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Only California, Texas and Iowa have more capacity than Minnesota’s 750 megawatts. An estimated 10 percent of Minnesota’s power needs are met through wind-generated electricity. ¦