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Minnesota Power cheers windmill-shipping milestone

Stevedores unload cooling units for wind turbines from the Peter Ronna out of Denmark on Monday morning at the Clure Public Marine Terminal. (Bob King / / 2
A container crane is used to unload cooling units for wind turbines from the Peter Ronna on Monday morning at the Clure Public Marine Terminal in Duluth. Minnesota Power and the Duluth port reached a milestone Monday when the 15th ship bearing wind generation equipment for the Bison 4 renewable energy installation in North Dakota arrived in Duluth. (Bob King / / 2

If it were always as blustery at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority as it was Monday morning, the Port would be a natural mecca for harnessing wind energy.

Because that isn’t the case, the Port Authority has found another way to help increase the use of wind energy in Northeastern Minnesota: a partnership with Minnesota Power.

Since Minnesota Power began work on the Bison Wind Energy Center in North Dakota — a soon-to-be-completed project with four separate wind farms — around 2007, the Port Authority has been the docking and unloading station for Minnesota Power’s wind farm construction supplies.

“We get to utilize our remarkable geographic advantage in terms of being probably the only utility importer in a port city of this magnitude,” said Dave McMillan, executive vice president of Minnesota Power. “At the same time, we’re close to the wind resources of North Dakota and the hydroelectric resources of northern Minnesota and Canada.”

The Peter Ronna, the 15th ship bearing Minnesota Power equipment to be docked in the port, and its freight of 14 generators and 12 cooling units, was unloaded by Port Authority stevedores Monday. The port expects two more cargo ships to arrive by the end of September.

“If anybody but the port was here and wasn’t as cooperative, none of that would work as well as it does,” McMillan said.

Minnesota Power has already completed the first three phases of Bison Wind Energy Center.

The fourth phase, called Bison 4, is going up this summer and is expected to be completed by year’s end. Once finished and fully operational, McMillan said Bison 4 will push Minnesota Power over the 25 percent renewable energy plateau, which the state Legislature directed utility companies to reach by 2025.

“We couldn’t be happier to be doing right by our environment and ultimately bring some pretty low-cost, long-term sustainable power to our customers,” McMillan said.

Vanta Coda, executive director of the Port Authority, said the partnership with Minnesota Power has been a beneficial one for the port as well.

The closest port to the wind energy hub of North Dakota, Coda said the Port Authority is looking to increase its involvement in transporting wind farm supplies. He said the Port Authority plans to approach the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development about establishing further relationships with utility companies.

“I see that developing over time,” Coda said.

As for Minnesota Power, McMillan said its partnership with the Port Authority is likely to come to an end this fall, once it receives the rest of the supplies needed to complete Bison 4.

“On our current planning horizon, it is our final (wind farm),” McMillan said. “But I fully expect we’ll have more opportunities to put this port to use and bring assets in from around the world.”