With 50 large-scale turbines, miles of transmission lines, over 100 construction workers and more than $180 million invested, it could be one of the largest projects ever undertaken in rural Goodhue County.
Commissioners began to wade into the issue Monday of how to accommodate that project should it receive approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission next month.
“We’re trying to square this away before it starts – if it starts,” said Land Use Management Director Lisa Hanni.
Everything from the routing of transmission lines to application fees were on the table at the special Committee of the Whole meeting, as county staff presented an outline of a preliminary development agreement with Goodhue Wind, the company that wants to build a 78 megawatt wind farm on signed property beginning this fall.
The biggest issue appeared to be roads, as in how Goodhue County roads would fare under the tremendous weight of wind turbine materials as they are transferred on site.
“Roads are expensive. We’re talking millions,” said commissioner Ron Allen. “We want to be sure we’re going to be reimbursed.”
Commissioners called on county staff to work to minimize damage and ensure that the county is paid for the cost of road repairs. Public Works director Greg Isakson said routes would be encouraged that kept trucks transporting turbine materials on state highways as long as possible.
Once off the highways, gravel roads would be preferred over paved roads.
“You can do a lot of damage to a paved road and not see it,” he said.
To guarantee payment for the cost of repairs, Hanni said county staff will discuss a potential security agreement with Goodhue Wind that would be added to the overall development agreement.
Wind developer Chuck Burdick of National Wind said he was pleased with that comprehensive approach. An all-in-one development agreement – with security agreements, construction permits and site plans all contained in one document – would aid in moving the project forward on schedule, he said.
The company aims to begin laying the foundation of its wind turbines this fall and to have the project completed, at the earliest, by early July.
“That would take smooth sailing the whole way,” he said.
But the development agreement sparked criticism from anti-wind landowners, who argued that the county was yielding too easily to state authority and ignoring the concerns of local residents and government bodies.
The state has permitting authority over large-scale wind projects over 5 megawatts.
“This is about local control,” Belle Creek Township chairman Chad Ryan said after the meeting. “We just want to preserve local government.”
The township board passed a one-year moratorium on wind development in June, and submitted a letter reminding the county of that action on Monday. Much of Goodhue Wind’s proposed project falls within the township.
But Hanni said that local government resolutions likely won’t play much of a role in whether the project is ultimately approved. The state wants new sources of alternative energy, she said, and has made sure that its authority over new projects supersedes that of counties, cities and townships.
“The state gives the permit, and in this case, they overrule local government,” she said.