Dan Juhl – Wind energy pioneer takes long view

Wind power veteran Dan Juhl answers questions about the industry’s challenges.

Dan Juhl has been developing wind power plants for three decades. He built Minnesota’s first wind energy project in 1986 on Buffalo Ridge, and his company Juhl Wind Inc., based in Woodstock, Minn., now specializes in developing smaller wind farm projects, typically 20 megawatts or less. Juhl Wind has reported an increase in revenues, with wind turbines projects under construction in Meeker, Murray and Winona counties.

But the U.S. wind power industry expects to install about half the capacity this year as it did in 2009. In an interview with the Star Tribune, Juhl, who is the company’s chairman and CEO, talked about the issues facing the wind energy industry and what the future holds.

Q Wind power this year took a downturn, with a decline in U.S. installations after five years of growth. What’s going on?

A One of the biggest factors … has been the fact that the transmission system is reaching a limit for big wind farm projects. The system was not designed to take large amounts of power injected at certain places, and wind energy is reaching that limit. And also there are issues with the financial markets. In 2008, the system basically collapsed for financing, and everybody’s trying to get back on their feet …. As you move wind farm development away from areas where there’s no people, where the transmission capacity has been consumed, and you try to move them closer to the load centers, where there are a lot of people, you run into permitting issues because of the large amounts of land that are required to do a large wind farm. So all these things are weighing on the industry.

Q Minnesota is one of the leading wind energy states, with 9 percent of power from wind turbines . What are the prospects for adding to that?

A I think the further development in Minnesota is going to have to be more community-based and smaller projects doing distributed generation until the transmission system is upgraded.

Q Your company has focused on developing wind farms owned by communities, co-ops or landowners. How many have you built and how many are planned for the future?

A We have 17 projects in the ground, … four projects in construction, and then we have at least a dozen projects in development.

Q Has Juhl Wind’s smaller-scale, community approach been affected by the downtown in the wind market?

A Yes and no. We had four projects in construction this year, which is probably four times more than most companies have in construction. And we do have projects that are scheduled to go in the ground next year.

Q Your company reported that revenues increased significantly this year, but did not report a profit. Why is that?

A There is a bit of chasing your tail in this business …. From the time you start to develop a project you are talking three or four years. So you are putting money in — you’re putting in construction and you are rolling revenue and revenue is moving, but the time when you get your profit out of it is at the end of the project. We feel our company is very sound and we have profits that are coming in, and it just takes time to roll it all through the process.

Q One of Minnesota’s major wind energy players, Suzlon, plans to lay off most workers at its turbine blade plant in Pipestone, Minn., because of no orders. Do you think that plant will get back on feet?

A I think so. It’s all relative to how the market can rebound. But they produce a good product out of the Pipestone plant, and as long as Suzlon is able to move turbines, they will be putting blades out of there. But I have no prediction on how the turbine manufacturers are going to handle this slowdown.

Q Do you think wind power will ever compete on its own without government incentives?

A The tax credit that wind energy gets is minuscule in comparison to the subsidies that fossil fuels — oil and coal — and nuclear power get. Just go into the Federal Register and look at the subsidies those energy resources have gotten over the years and what they still get today in comparison to renewable energy. It is an overwhelming difference.

You have to remember the cost of wind energy and renewable energy, solar power too, is the cost of the capital to buy the technology. You have no fuel, you have no emissions, you have no waste, you have no transportation of fuel, you have none of the things that keep driving energy costs up and up and up. So if you eliminated all subsidies for all energy, renewable energy would by far and away be the best value for the American people.


Age: 59

Position: Chairman and CEO, Juhl Wind Inc.

Location: Woodstock, Minn.

Career: Juhl grew up in Red Lake Falls, Minn., served as an electronics technician in the Navy and entered the wind business in 1978 by designing wind turbines for Red River Valley farmers. He later built systems in California and Europe, and developed Minnesota’s first wind farm in 1986 on Buffalo Ridge. He has developed more than 1,500 megawatts of wind power. He co-authored the book "Harvesting Wind Energy as a Cash Crop: A Guide to Community-Owned Wind Farming."

Company: Juhl Wind Inc., formed in 2008, is a publicly traded wind energy company that helps farmers and communities develop and operate wind farms.

By David Shaffer, Star Tribune, www.startribune.com/