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Approval of Goodhue County wind-farm infrastructure improvements worries project critics

RED WING – Some members of the public took exception to the timing of two permit requests made by Goodhue Wind, but Goodhue County officials assured a skeptical audience at the Planning Advisory Commission meeting Tuesday, where the permits were approved, that everything continues to be on the up-and-up surrounding the company’s controversial wind-power project.

The company applied Aug. 20 for two conditional use permits related to its 78-megawatt, 50-turbine, 32,700-acre project. A 3.1-mile overheard transmission line and an electrical switching station were approved by the Planning Advisory Commission, contingent upon approval of the project, which is likely more than a month away and far from guaranteed.

Work on the transmission line and switching station isn’t scheduled to start until next spring.

“Are we putting the cart before the horse?” Goodhue County resident Barb Stussy said during the meeting.

Steve Groth, a longtime critic of the project, said, “We’re giving the wrong impression to the public that this is a done deal. It’s not, and it might not be for a long time.”

Goodhue County planning/zoning administrator Mike Wozniak said the Public Utilities Commission directed Goodhue Wind to apply for these permits now. Wind project developer Chuck Burdick said this is a “very normal process.”

“There are concerns with the timing of it, but we’re really pursuing all our permits concurrently,” Burdick said.

The transmission lines will be along County Road 51 up to Highway 19, which is north of the project site. The lines will be 52 feet off the center line of the road and be on poles at least 25 feet high and 300 feet apart.

The switching station will be about 2 miles north of a similar setup in Vasa Township. Goodhue Wind is negotiating the ownership of the station when it’s done to Xcel Energy.

Goodhue Wind has easements with 21 of the 22 landowners along the transmission line route, but the missing one highlights what could be a significant concern.

Property owner Gerald Ingeman refused to sign an easement because, he said, he didn’t receive documentation explaining the situation despite repeated phone calls from a Goodhue Wind representative seeking his signature.

“What am I supposed to do, sign without reading?” he said.

Ingeman also said that a Sprint telephone store in Rochester declined him as a customer based on the proposed transmission line.

In addition, a recent letter from Hector Communications expressed concern that transmission lines create electrical interference with underground copper telephone cables. Robert Weiss, the company’s general manager, said that’s what happened to a subsidiary of his at the Buffalo Ridge wind farm in Lake Benton, Minn. He’s asked that the wind company pay for re-routing cables and/or replacing older cables with fiber optic upgrades.

Paul Reese, of Goodhue Wind Truth, and others urged the planning advisory commission to table Goodhue Wind’s permit requests for more research and study. The commission declined to do so, citing a 60-day window to turn the request around for county board approval.

“In Goodhue County, the elected officials have this feeling that (citizens) are the little people,” Reese said. “Sit down and shut up. It’s ridiculous.

“Maybe if they would spend more time doing their job, they wouldn’t have to spend so much time campaigning to keep their job.”