It’s not that Mark and Vicki Hessenius and David Morrison want to stop the new EnXco wind energy project.
They want to slow it down, because, they say, there are issues, questions and considerations to study.
And, they all believe renewable energy is a “good thing,” so the protests they make should not be classified as “not-in-my-backyard” emotions.
Still, it sounded like a confrontation Tuesday night at the Mower County Planning Commission meeting.
However, compromise won over confrontation.
EnXco’s Ian Krygowski agreed with the concerned citizens: more detailed information is needed.
The Mower County Planning Commission agreed to recommend three EnXco requests for a 161 kv substation and high voltage transmission line be forwarded to the Mower County Board of Commissioners.
However, the commission’s recommendation also includes a request that the scheduled public hearing on the requests be continued until both sides have the opportunity for a face-to-fact meeting to, hopefully, resolve the issues, answer the questions and review the considerations raised by the concerned citizens at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The county board meets Tuesday and is expected to grant the request to continue the public hearing until Feb. 12 at which time the county board will either approve EnXco’s requests or deny them or send them back to the planning commission.
“We need electricity,” said planning commissioner Jim Risius. “I remember when everybody was in favor of wind energy, but that isn’t so today.”
The EnXco wind energy project involves 137 wind turbines to be constructed in two phases to generate 200 negawatts of electricity: 100 now and 100 more later.
The 161 kv substation would be located in Section 8, Grand Meadow Township on land owned by absentee landowner Paul J. Merz.
The 161 kv high voltage transmission line would run northerly from the new substation to a substation located in Section 19, Pleasant Valley Township on land owned by various landowners along the route.
Since Garwin McNeilus, Dodge Center, developed the first wind farm in Adams Township to the present, Mower County residents have viewed the giant wind turbines with awe.
Right here on the flatlands of Mower County a renewable energy source exists and farmers and non-farming rural dwellers are harvesting profits from the wind.
Critics of the EnXco project told the commission members Tuesday night they are not against renewable, clean energy, but do believe when something like wind energy sounds so good a closer look might reveal something bad.
When McNeilus launched his wind energy farm project, nearby residents complained of the turbine blades’ interference with their television signals.
The planning commission heard complaints of sky glow, substation noise, substation and high voltage transmission line visual impairments and health and safety concerns.
And one of the critics, David Morrison, a resident of Pleasant Valley Township, works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the state’s watch-dog for environmental concerns.
Krygowski, project manager for EnXco, started the discussion by examining the environmental assessment submitted by the developer.
The first wind turbines will be located south of Interstate 90 with the electricity sold to Xcel Energy. When the first phase is complete, 70 more generators will be constructed on the north side of Interstate 90 in eastern Mower County.
Both Xcel and EnXco have obtained the necessary state permits from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, according to Krygowski, who said the EA revealed no impediments.
Mark and Vickie Hessenius spoke next.
Armed with a handout addressed “Concerned Citizens,” the couple said there were several questions and concerns “not fully addressed.”
Vickie Hessenius listed them as health and safety, sitings and routings, financial impact and aesthetics.
The prospect of having giant wind turbines outside their rural Dexter home, Vickie Hessenius said, “It’s a wonderful idea, but a lifetime eyesore.”
Dan Page, who shares the couple’s concerns, asked, “What is Mower County getting out of this?”
Darryl W. Franklin, county environmental services director, tried to explain the formula for generating tax revenues from wind farms. The tax revenues are shared by the county, townships and school districts.
“The more energy they produce, the more taxes Mower County collects,” Franklin said.
Then, Morrison made his presentation, which included a three-page handout listing his specific concerns.
He, too, said the EA did not thoroughly address issues.
Morrison, his wife and their family have experienced first-hand having an energy plant next door to their rural home: Great River Energy’s plant in Pleasant Valley Township is that neighbor.
Admitting he is an amateur astronomer who “likes a dark country sky,” Morrison said the GRE facility “produces a significant large sky glow.”
Morrison said safety lighting at the new EnXco substation will “produce another large area of sky glow” that would place the Morrison residence in Pleasant Valley Township in the middle of 2 sky glow sources.
When he completed listing his concerns, Morrison said, “We did not come to Mower County to short circuit this project, but we believe there is a more onerous process to handle it.”
Also speaking was Kim K. Hardecopf, a Pleasant Valley Township neighbor of the Morrison family. Hardecopf said a vegetative barrier would be an ideal “buffer between the substation and those of us who live next to it.”
What to do?
Listening to the lengthy presentations was the easy part of the 2 1/2 hour meeting. Deciding how to handle the requests to ensure the county gave them a sufficient attention was the hard part.
Richard P. Cummings, 1st District county commissioner and non-voting chairman of the planning commission, said the commission members would have to certify in their findings of fact “there’s enough information to support rejecting the requests.”
Commission members were sympathetic to the citizens’ concerns.
“I feel for a lot of you. I live out there near the Great River plant,” Margaret Kirchner, commission vice chair, said, “but I just don’t know about this.”
It was not until Krygowski suggested, the commission could “move this forward” by sending the requests to the county board for consideration. “They are the only ones who can act on our requests,” he said.
That point was made repeatedly by environmental services director Franklin. “The planning commission is only an advisory body,” he said. “They can only recommend.”
Cummings reminded all by state law, “The county has 60 days to act on these requests or they will be automatically approved.”
With Krygowski’s assurances he was willing to meet with the Hesseniuses, Page, Morrison, Hardecopf and other concerned citizens, the planning commission voted to turn over EnXco’s requests to the county commissioners.
By LEE BONORDEN
24 January 2008
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