Wind Turbines and the Transportation Network

Posted on: June 19th, 2012 by Kate Humphrey

The first panel began with a presentation by Annette Bair from the Southwest Regional Development Commission, a nine-county organization in Minnesota. Bair also serves as the Southwest Clean Energy Resource Team Coordinator and is involved with the 19-county Rural Minnesota Energy Board. She is responsible for reviewing development projects that have a potential regional impact, particularly with regard to wind energy infrastructure. Minnesota’s wind capacity has increased substantially since 1999 and is likely to keep growing based on national trends. Several groups of officials are involved with implementing these projects, including state energy permitting staff and county engineers and zoning officials.

Although Bair maintains a good rapport with these officials and frequently seeks their input, she recognized a flaw in the overall communication system for energy projects. In response, she organized a workshop for state staff, developers, and others involved in such projects to identify issues and create a set of uniform guidelines to share among them, in addition to a development agreement template to serve as a base reference for future projects. These agreements address many complex factors and development standards that are part of projects.

During the first year of this process, participants shared best practices (such as examples of permits) and discussed how counties with a large wind energy presence could manage challenges. For example, future road improvements are limited in many places, and developers are not familiar with the standards in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. While Bair was a critical resource in these efforts, she helped secure funding for an engineering firm to complete the best practices. This firm calculated the truck loads associated with installing a turbine base to determine the impact of this travel on roads. They found that 1,584 truck loads were required for an entire site, in addition to 79 truck loads per turbine. The engineers compared the ESAL (equivalent single axle load, a summary measure of traffic load) from turbines to a typical load for local crops, which have a much smaller impact.

With the new knowledge of the impact of turbine development projects on the state’s transportation system, the engineers examined sizes and weights of different cranes more closely and identified best practices for crane crossings to protect the road. These and other resources are available on the website of the Minnesota Local Road Research Board (http://www NULL.lrrb NULL.org/). Bair has continued to monitor energy projects and has increased communication among officials, engineers, and developers, resulting in a more efficient process. For more information, visit the Southwest Regional Development Commission (http://www NULL.swrdc NULL.org/).

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