MAHASKA COUNTY —Imagining how large the blades of a wind turbine are isn’t easy from a car on the road or highway, but for hundreds of curious onlookers Saturday, the massive size of the turbines was easily visible.

The people were at an open house hosted by officials from MidAmerican Energy, held at the site of a turbine that is part of the Prairie Wind Farm project. The open house, Saturday, Aug. 5, was hosted on the property of Dennis and Sharon Blanke.

Hundreds of people attended the event, enjoyed a small meal and door prize raffle. They also took a close-up look at the components of the turbines that are now soaring above the Mahaska County countryside.

Communications Director Tina Potthoff said MidAmerican Energy was excited to be at the project site of the Prairie Wind Farm, which when finished will circle the west and south sides of New Sharon with more than 80 larger-than-usual turbines.

“We’re really happy to be interacting with the community today, to show them more about how wind energy works, what our efforts are when it comes to renewable energy and in general, just talking about the project, let them see up close and personal what the wind turbines look like,” she said. “We’ve had excellent turnout. We’ve had great community support. This kind of echos the type of community support that we’ve had here in the New Sharon area.”

Potthoff said another point of the open house was to try to educate people on wind energy.

“The wind energy that’s generated here stays here in Iowa. If people think it’s going to Chicago, that is not the case at all,” she said. “It is actually benefiting Iowans right here, our very own customers. It also helps keep rates low too.”

Project Manager Adam Jablonski said the Prairie Wind Farm consisted of 84 wind turbines.

“It’s a 168 megawatt project, all situated in Mahaska County. There’s a lot of equipment here,” Jablonski said, adding that positive community support is one of the foundations needed for a successful project.

“And we’ve gotten that [support],” he continued. “There’s been hundreds of people that have shown up today already, getting up close to the equipment, really seeing what’s out in the middle of everybody’s field after it’s done and operating, and understand the ins and outs of wind energy. That’s what today is all about.”

Jablonski said there are many community benefits from the wind farm and wind energy.

“Every landowner who’s participating in the project, they get easement payments from us. So, over the life of the project, we’ll pay out $55 million for Prairie area landowners who help us host facilities on the property,” he said. “There’s also the broader benefit to the entire community through property tax payments. Over the life of the project, we’ll pay $77 million to Mahaska County. That goes to help everybody in the community, through improved schools, roads and bridges. So it’s really not just the people who host the facilities, but the broader community that benefits.”

Christine Huston, a communications coordinator for Blattner Energy Business Development, said Blattner Energy was basically the general contractor for the project; constructing everything from the roads to the turbine foundations, installation and doing electrical work.

“A lot of the work that we do when we come into the community is looking to do work with the community, hiring locally like the subcontractors that we do, try to see if there’s any local subcontractors we can work with,” Hutson said, “just to make sure the money stays local and that we’re investing in the communities here.”

Landowner Dennis Blanke said he hoped the project all works out well.

“I guess it’s OK, hopefully,” Blanke said.

As to having wind turbines on his property, he said he thought it was probably just better to do it.

“You’ve got to look at them anyway; just as well get some income from it,” Blanke said. “Neighbors will have them.”

Scott Kephart said the project has been interesting.

“I think it’s been real acceptable. This is actually my uncle’s property that we’re standing on, so we’ve got a lot of information from him in the past. He talks pretty highly of what’s going on,” he said. “And people have been generous and courteous of their property.”

Kephart said he thought overall the Prairie wind farm will be good for the community.

“Especially with the way the farm economy is right now. It’s a little bit of supplement for it,” Kephart said. “I don’t think it’s going to affect a whole lot out in this area. The birds and stuff maybe a little bit, but it’s no different than any other day, I don’t think.”

The project has an expected completion date of fall 2017.

— Herald staff writer Angie Holland can be reached at aholland@oskyherald.com and followed on Twitter @OskyAngie.

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