When J.N. Nicollet and several associates undertook a widely-recalled exploration of the upper Mississippi river valley (1836-1840), the party documented a significant rise in the prairie across southwest Minnesota. Nicollet determined the several heights of this rise, at or near 1,600 feet above sea level, run along a northwest-southeast ridge which lifts from present-day southeast South Dakota and extends across southwest Minnesota into northwest Iowa.
On his 1843 map, Nicollet labeled this ridge Coteau des Prairies. Crest of the Prairie, or Peak of the Prairies. Most English speakers stumble over the pronunciation.
Colloquially, the ridge came to be known as Buffalo Ridge, especially in an area around Chandler, MN, where a large, pre-settlement image of a buffalo outlined by stones was discovered. Through the last third of the 20th Century, in particular, local news media popularized the Buffalo Ridge designation.
The reason there is focus on the formation is that Buffalo Ridge has been determined to be one of the most wind-swept sites on the North American continent. The nearly-constant Buffalo Ridge winds match or exceed Pacific coast sites where ocean zephyrs break over the shores.
So it came to be (1993) that a cluster of more than 70 wind turbines was erected about Hendricks and Lake Benton in Lincoln County, MN, as the U.S. government, the State of Minnesota and several energy conglomerates began a serious effort to create electricity from wind. Soon a second cluster of turbines - more than 140 - was erected near the same site.
A dozen years later there is uncertainty attending the precise number of wind turbines across and along Buffalo Ridge. There are thousands of them. Southwest Minnesota’s landscape has been transformed, just as the search for energy has been transformed. Minnesota’s southwest corner, in particular, has become an American center for the production of electricity.
The sleek, nearly silent wind turbines are all about 250 feet high. Each turbine weighs nearly 100 tons. Most have three blades with a rotor diameter of more than 150 feet. They are awesome structures.
Each turbine may generate the annual electrical needs of up to 250 homes. The wind-driven turbines supplant the burning of hundreds of thousands of tons of coal which would be required to fill the needs of the power now harvested from Minnesota breezes.
Some farmers in the southwest region, who have watched turbines being erected on their lands, call their farms “wind farms.” They now reap harvests from winds which once only rustled their corn crops.
Historically, Lincoln County, with fewer than 6,500 residents, was a county with significantly limited resources. Lincoln County has become an emblem of the future for energy production and attendant financial benefits. Lincoln County also emerges as a metaphor for Minnesota in the 21st Century. Winds that sweep the state from the Lake Superior shores to the relentless zephyrs of Buffalo Ridge are making Minnesota a center of electrical production, supplanting old-time coal burning plants of decades gone by and bringing a new boon to the state's economy.
~Raymond Crippen, Worthington, MN
Minnesota farmers captured windpower to pump water and charge batteries for farm use on family farmsteads. Icons of the family farm, they, along with the small self-sustaining family farm, have been disappearing from the landscape. Not from the Public Spaces of the Minnesota History Center, however today Minnesota is one of the leaders in the new generation of wind power and its technology, changing not only the way we generate electrical power, but also how we view the rural landscape. Buffalo Ridge in Southwestern Minnesota, one of the most pervasively windy areas in the US has been transformed in recent years, from a prairie and agricultural landscape to one connected to the nation's electrical grid, with huge, towering, bladed, ghostly, kinetic generators for as far as the eye can see. Like it or not....it it is a change rooted in the past and taking us far into the future.
~John Lindell, Minneapolis, MN
Windpower in large form arrived in 1994, it put Southwest Minnesota and the State of Minnesota on the map as a State enriched by renewable energy and a leader in the growth and development of alternative energies. Today Minnesota continues to advance the development in renewable energy and oil alternatives.
~Heather Ulrich-Glynn, Lake Benton, MN
Transforming the landscape by harnessing a natural resource
The growing availability of electricity in rural Minnesota made the windmills that once dotted the landscape all but obsolete. In recent years, though, rising fuel prices and environmental concerns have sparked renewed interest in the power of wind. Today, thousands of tall, gleaming wind turbines stand across Buffalo Ridge in southwestern Minnesota. Here's how nominator Raymond Crippen of Worthington, Minnesota, describes the change:
"Buffalo Ridge has been determined to be one of the most windswept sites on the North American continent. The nearly constant Buffalo Ridge winds match or exceed the winds at Pacific Coast sites where ocean zephyrs break over the shores. So it came to be, in 1993, that a cluster of more than seventy wind turbines was erected near Hendricks and Lake Benton in Lincoln County, as the U.S. government, the State of Minnesota, and several energy conglomerates began a serious effort to create electricity from wind. Southwest Minnesota's landscape has been transformed, just as the search for energy has been transformed. Minnesota's southwest corner, in particular, has become an American center for the production of electricity. The sleek, nearly silent wind turbines are all about 250 feet high. Each turbine weighs nearly 100 tons. Most have three blades with a rotor diameter of more than 150 feet. They are awesome structures. Each turbine may supply the annual electrical needs of up to 250 homes.
"Lincoln County has become an emblem of the future for energy production and attendant financial benefits. Winds that sweep the state from the Lake Superior shores to the relentless zephyrs of Buffalo Ridge are making Minnesota a center of electrical production, supplanting old-time coal-burning plants of decades gone by and bringing a new boon to the state's economy."
"Most natives and all visitors will tell you that southwestern Minnesota is as flat as a pancake. But there are greater extremes of terrain here than anywhere else in Minnesota. Here is some of the state's highest ground, along Buffalo Ridge, the backbone of the coteau. . . . The sweep of the horizon in any direction is infinite. There is no telling where earth and sky meet. Here one can get some sense of the milieu of the prairie as it was not so long ago, when it was a treeless expanse of waving grass, visited only occasionally by nomads, deathly still because even the wind has no sound except when it is interrupted."
Paul Gruchow, "This Prairie, This Terrible Place," reprinted in The North Country Reader, 1979
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