RED WING — Questions continue to swirl around the contentious AWA Goodhue wind project in Goodhue County as all sides await the final word.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued a site permit for the 78-megawatt project on June 30 with numerous conditions. Before the PUC staff could review the decision and issue an official document, state government shut down for two weeks. Now the PUC is busy playing catchup, and the wind order is just one of the pieces to be dealt with.
County Attorney Steve Betcher said at Tuesday’s Goodhue County Board meeting that the delay could stretch for another two weeks or two months given the complexity of the issue. The project already is approaching an unprecedented two years of debate. A PUC representative said Tuesday the timetable is two or three weeks.
The uncertainty has brought both sides to a standstill.
“Like in Washington, they came up with a compromise that not everyone — or maybe no one — is happy with,” Betcher said.
Once the final paperwork is available, both sides have 20 days to file for reconsideration with the PUC. Betcher said both sides might do that, which would show how dissatisfied the ruling left all involved. He also didn’t rule out a legal appeal from the wind company or any of the interveners, though the county commissioners consider that unlikely.
The county board decided Tuesday to take a wait-and-see approach. Chuck Burdick, the wind project’s lead developer, declined to comment on AWA Goodhue’s strategy.
The PUC said AWA Goodhue must make a good faith effort to enlist other people before proceeding with a 6-rotor-diameter setback, which equates to 1,626 feet for nonparticipants. Goodhue County’s ordinance calls for a 10-rotor-diameter setback. The wind company modeled its 50-turbine project on a 1,500-foot setback.
AWA Goodhue also must create a plan to protect birds and bats that must be submitted to the PUC for approval, though the timing of that requirement is unclear.
Burdick said letters were mailed out to several people in mid-July to comply with the good faith effort requirement. The self-imposed deadline to respond was Monday, though the company still is compiling data from what Burdick dubbed “community outreach.” Some people have criticized the circulated contract as woefully inadequate and questioned whether the PUC will see it as fulfilling the good faith standard.
That’s seen as the first step in a potential overhaul of the project. AWA Goodhue’s legal counsel told the PUC that a 6-rotor-diameter setback would affect “more than a handful but less than half” of the 50 turbines, which has caused Betcher to speculate that the project might not move forward as planned.
However, Burdick still remains optimistic that construction on the $179 million project will begin this fall, which would allow it to be eligible for significant state and federal subsidies.