Dan Juhl

Dan Juhl | Founder | Juhl Energy

PELICAN RAPIDS, MINN -- Forty years ago, when Dan Juhl was just starting out in the wind industry, there really was no “industry” to speak of. 

“For many years it was very difficult. There was no technology, and there were no policies. In 1978 when I started the business, I started a business who my competitors were the largest monopolies in the world. And I was this lowly guitar player thinking I was going to make some electricity,” Dan remembers. 

Today Dan, a self-professed “long-hair” is retired, but still serves as Chairman of the Board of Juhl Energy. Dan founded the company in 1978 after a brief stint in the Navy and some time playing in a rock band. Today, the Chanhassen-headquartered company has completed 30 wind farm projects to date and helped pioneer community-based wind farms. In fact, the company, through Dan’s vision, built the very first wind farm in the Midwest on the Buffalo Ridge in Minnesota in 1986 for Northern States Power Co.

A long journey

Today, wind accounts for 18 percent of total electricity generation in Minnesota, according to the 2019 Minnesota State Energy Factsheet. 

“When I first started, the biggest wind turbine I could buy was as big as my arm span,” Dan remembers. Today, a single wind turbine blade can be as big as 200 feet long, and Dan was an integral part of engineering the technology that got wind turbines to where they are today. 

 “We had to design the blades to be able to accept the different air pressures of the tip speed vs the root speed (the speed at the tip of the blades versus the rotor). And once we got our arms around that, that made a huge difference in the efficiency of the machines to where they can produce the power that they make today,” Dan explains. 

Hybrid wind and solar

We meet Dan at the site of the county’s very first hybrid wind and solar project, located in the middle of a corn field outside of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. The Lake Region Community Hybrid consists of a 2.5 megawatt GE wind turbine with 500 kilowatts of solar. The two clean energy sources are combined into a single conversation package inverter on the turbine. 

“The object of the exercise here is to be able to provide clean sustainable energy with no fuel, no emissions, no waste, no water, and no transmission costs. That’s the least cost energy for consumers in the long run, and that’s what the hybrid [models] represent. And besides that, we can provide lots of local jobs,” Dan tells us. 

Wind benefits the community

In addition to the more than 2,000 wind sector jobs in Minnesota, wind farms generate $7.4 billion in capital benefits for communities across the state. In 2019 alone, 26 Minnesota counties received more than $12 million in production tax revenue according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. 

The hybrid project in Pelican Rapids represents the culmination of a lot of Dan’s long-held beliefs about local energy, communities and economic development. 

“I think that distributed renewable technologies, this technology that we’ve developed is going to be a very big part of the future of rural Minnesota’s energy game. Because it just makes so much sense. You can plug this in right next to where the power is being consumed. The jobs stay here, the money stays here. It’s a win-win situation for rural Minnesota,” Dan tells us. 

Feel-good business

Now that the economics of clean energy can rival if not beat that of fossil fuel, Dan tells us it’s, “game over.” It’s quite a change from the beginning of his career when his belief in fighting for the environment kept him going through the hard times. 

“I just know that what we do in the renewable energy business is feel-good business, and that always helps with getting through the ups and downs of the daily grind of doing it. And at the end of the day we’re producing clean sustainable energy. That’s good. It makes you feel good,” he tells us.