Keeping It Close to Home

  • Baylor Radtke bags up anemometers for the climbers to carry up the tower. The student crew placed three anemometers at different heights, along with two wind direction indicators. The data is recorded and analyzed to estimate average wind speed. Researcher Mike Mageau is getting detailed information on several towers up and down the North Shore of Lake Superior. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)

People concerned about energy are
getting more and more interested
in producing their own. Stephanie
Hemphill reports on an effort to
harvest the wind, and other natural
resources, to power a community:


People concerned about energy are
getting more and more interested
in producing their own. Stephanie
Hemphill reports on an effort to
harvest the wind, and other natural
resources, to power a community:

(sound of climbing)

Three students are getting ready to climb a TV tower on Moose
Mountain on the north shore of Lake Superior. They’ll put up three
anemometers – little cups that spin in the wind and measure how fast
it’s blowing.

As they deploy their climbing equipment, their professor, Mike
Mageau, keeps asking if they have enough safety gear. He seems a
little anxious.

“Two of them are mountain climbers. So they seem to think this will
be no big deal.” (laughs)

Mageau teaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He’s been
measuring the wind on the high ridge that runs along the Lake
Superior shoreline.

“If you look at the statewide wind maps, they don’t give us credit for
having any wind along the North Shore of Lake Superior. But Grand
Portage was interested in wind, and they did some monitoring and we
helped them. This was years ago.”

That’s the Grand Portage Band of Ojibway Indians. Mageau got a
grant to install monitoring equipment up and down Lake Superior

“And we found 15 to 20 mile-an-hour average wind speeds at the

That’s about the same as the best wind sites in Iowa, where huge
wind farms spread across the landscape.

Mageau doesn’t advocate a big wind farm here. Instead, the idea is
to put up one windmill for each community along the shore. One big
turbine could supply roughly half the electricity each town uses.

He knows some people are nervous about this. The North Shore of
Lake Superior is beautiful, and no one wants to ruin the scenery. It’s
also an important route for migrating birds. There’s concern that
birds could fly into the spinning blades. A separate group of
researchers is studying the migration routes.

“Are they flying close to the lake, along the peaks, just inland or
lakeside of the peak, where are they flying? So hopefully when we
pick a wind site we’ll stay away from the birds.”

If a wind tower is ever built here, the power would go to the town of
Grand Marais Minnesota, 20 miles north. And it would fit in with other
projects local folks are working on, to become more energy self-

Buck Benson owns the local hardware store. He says he and his
friends, George and Lonnie, hatched the idea while they were fishing.

“We were grumbling about all this stuff, ‘what can we really do.’ And,
when we came back home, George kept prodding us, ‘you know what
we talked about,’ so we formed a little group. And I think we’ve done
good work since we started this organization.”

The group has been researching various ideas about how to produce
energy locally. One team is pursuing that windmill idea we heard
about. Another project is a little closer to being built: they want to
burn the wood chips from a local sawmill in a central heating system
for the town.

(sound of buzzing)

The chips would come from Hedstrom Lumber mill. Howard
Hedstrom says the mill sells bark chipped off the trees. But he has to
haul it miles away to sell it.

“By the time you pay the freight, there’s not much left. And if it could
be used locally, why not use it locally and save all that transportation

The city of Grand Marais has applied for a federal grant to pay for half
the cost of the boiler.

Communities across the country are looking to use what they’ve got
around them, instead of importing energy from a big coal or nuclear
plant miles away.

It helps keep money close to home, and it could be better for the

For The Environment Report, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

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