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Environmental Studies Prof Measures the Possibilities
Nick Salo uses a handheld GPS to determine monitoring site coordinates.
Brody Sunderland collects data from a data logger mounted about 10 feet off the ground. This communication tower near Grand Marais, Minn.


Minnesota puts out maps depicting the potential for wind-turbine use in different regions. For many years the state maps showed the area around Lake Superior was lacking in wind. Mike Mageau, an assistant professor in environmental studies, was skeptical.

“When I looked at the maps, I thought they couldn’t be right,” Mageau remembers. “We had done some crude monitoring for the folks in Grand Portage several years ago, and found lots of wind despite poor monitoring methods — this experience led us to believe that there may be lots of wind along the entire northshore of Lake Superior."

Mageau wanted to find out if the region actually had more wind than the state had suggested, so he wrote a proposal to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) Coastal Zone Program asking for funding to study the regions wind resource. The DNR, along with the Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership, the Northeast Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams and UMD’s College of Liberal Arts all chipped in to help fund the project.

Representing the Center for Sustainable Community Development, Mageau and six environmental studies students: Janelle Stauff, Nicole Hynum, Melissa Wenker, Nick Entinger, Nick Salo and Brody Sunderland, monitored the wind at seven different sites along the north shore of Lake Superior. Sunderland, a senior majoring in geography with a minor in environmental studies, developed the final wind resource map.

“Working on this project gave me real-life experience in my field,” said Sunderland. The students also learned how to use the proper gear to gather data from the tops of the towers and interpret the data they collected. The final results were mapped out by Sunderland. Mageau would also like to thank to Stacy Stark, Geographic Information Systems Lab Director, who provided invaluable support throughout the project.
“It was good for the students to be able to work on this,” said Mageau. “This was a nice, clean project for them, and they were a huge help!”

Ultimately, the results indicated considerably more wind in our region than the previous state maps had shown. Especially high numbers were found near Finland, Lutsen, Hovland and and Grand Portage. These findings have elicited a number of small projects already and an interest in large-scale wind farm development in the area.

“People are finally able to take advantage of this resource that the state didn’t even know it had,” said Mageau. “Although the locals will tell you that they knew it all along.”

Smaller scale development projects are already in the early stages, including projects at the Grand Portage Casino, Two Harbors High School, Silver Bay, Lutsen Ski Hill, and a well-organized community group in Cook County. Several local landowners have also expressed an interest in putting up windmills on their own properties.

While the natural potential for large commercial wind farms is present, Mageau notes there are obstacles. “Some people are concerned about the lack of aesthetic appeal and others worry about the local bird populations,” he said. “Currently the major deterrent is the limited transmission line capacity.”

"People are finally able to take advantage of this resource that the state didn’t even know it had." --- Mike Mageau
The map developed by the UMD project shows significantly more wind (14-19 mph) than current statewide wind resource maps (10-12 mph).

Mageau says that even if t were socially and environmentally acceptable to build a large wind farm like one recently built on the Iron Range, the electrical transmission capacity is limited. The existing transmission lines are already pretty much maxed out. Regardless, Mageau says that he has received calls from developers who are still interested in the area’s potential, even for large-scale projects. He believes that a major venture to increase transmission line capacity in the region could open up a world of local possibilities.

“Harnessing our local wind resource could provide a major sustainable economic development opportunity for the region," said Mageau.

For more information contact Dr. Mike Mageau at or 218-726-6133.
Center for Sustainable Community Development

Written by Jordan Hanson


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