September 22, 2010

Goodhue County Planning Commission sends updated wind-power ordinance to county board

By Brett Boese, The Post-Bulletin, Austin MN, 22 September 2010

RED WING – After months of intense, lengthy discussion, Goodhue County’s Planning Advisory Commission agreed Tuesday night to send an updated wind energy ordinance to the county board, which will begin its review at an Oct. 5 meeting.

The 4-year-old ordinance became outdated after the state issued a mandate that by 2025, 25 percent of energy used will come from renewable resources.

Neither side in the often-contentious debate over the revised ordinance is particularly pleased, but planning committee chairman Howard Stenerson says that’s a good thing.

“Anybody who doesn’t get 100 percent of what they’re asking for is disappointed, but part of good government is compromise,” said Stenerson, who was the only person on the nine-member commission to vote against the new ordinance.

A planning commission subcommittee charged with revising the ordinance finished its work in July, and the planning commission spent more than four hours reviewing and updating what the subcommittee submitted.

As has been typical, the arguments focused on four things: stray voltage, shadow flicker, noise and setbacks. The proposed ordinance makes clear choices on all four issues, but the county board can make changes.

Under the proposed ordinance, wind companies would be required to test for stray voltage before starting construction. Subsequent tests would be paid for by the landowner, who would be paid back only if stray voltage is affecting the property. Officials believe that arrangement will eliminate false alarms that could become expensive for wind companies.

Stray voltage is a concern in Goodhue County, which is the state’s fifth largest producer of dairy products, according to a 2009 study by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The proposed ordinance limits noise to 40 decibels, though the state limit is 50 decibels.

A lengthy discussion led to two proposed amendments to the subcommittee’s language requiring zero hours of flicker for non-participating dwellings. Those who spoke favored such arrangements – 99 percent flicker-free (roughly 50 hours) and 22 hours per year were the two options voted down – but subcommittee member Tom Webster remained firm in his push for zero hours, even after a warning from county planning/zoning administrator Mike Wozniak.

“This is one of the things that would significantly impact the future of wind turbines in the county,” Wozniak said.

Zero was the number agreed upon, much to the chagrin of Chuck Burdick, a senior wind developer for National Wind.

“It’s completely impractical, even for the small (wind) guy,” said Burdick, who represents a 78-megawatt wind project being considered in Goodhue County. “My hope is the (Minnesota Public Utilities Commission) might also find it impractical.”

The public utilities commission is expected to take the county’s ordinance into consideration when it considers final approval for Goodhue Wind’s 50-turbine project in October. The commission can disregard the language if it finds “good cause” to do so.

If the county board adopts the proposed ordinance as is, it would be the first in the state to adopt a zero-tolerance stance on shadow flicker.

While that would appear to be a big win for the group Goodhue Wind Truth, that isn’t the case.

The planning commission decided against maintaining a 10-rotor diameter setback for non-participants, which was the crux of an amendment proposed by Goodhue Wind Truth but that was denied Tuesday. If a developer satisfies the requirements for stray voltage, flicker and noise, a closer setback could be approved.

Paul Reece was one of three people who proposed the amendment.

“Shadow flicker and sound is all based on modeling. Ten rotor diameters is the only enforceable, concrete standard (in the ordinance), and they passed it over for vague, unenforceable standards,” Reece said. “The one redeeming factor in the ordinance they compromised on.”

The county board meeting on Oct. 5 starts at 2 p.m. and is expected to continue into the evening.

County board member Dan Rechtzigel served on the subcommittee and is familiar with the proposed ordinance, but the other four board members made a point of staying away from the planning commission meetings. However, county board member Richard Samuelson did attend the final five hours of Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted nearly seven hours.

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