Goodhue County commissioners agreed to impose rigid new standards on commercial wind developers Tuesday, in a narrow vote aimed at influencing the state’s upcoming permitting decision on the proposed Goodhue Wind project.
The County Board voted 3-2 in favor of an updated county wind ordinance, which includes a key provision that would impose a wind turbine setback of 10 “rotor-diameters” from homeowners not participating in a commercial wind project – unless those homeowners agree to less stringent standards.
For Goodhue Wind, that would amount to more than half-mile setbacks from non-participating dwellings, a distance that drew the disappointment of project developers and the praise of its opponents.
“Really, the ordinance that was adopted satisfies the majority of our concerns,” said Erin Logan, a resident of Belle Creek Township and a member of the anti-wind group Goodhue Wind Truth.
The vote came after nearly six hours of testimony from people nearly unanimously opposed to the 78-megawatt wind project, proposed across 12,000 acres of central Goodhue County.
Many of those opponents have long advocated for a 10 rotor-diameter setback. Members of Goodhue Wind Truth often wear “half mile or greater” stickers to meetings on the project.
Mary Gail, a resident of Belle Creek Township, said she and her family purchased their home for its rural peace and quiet. Large wind turbines would be noisy intrusions on that tranquility, she said.
“How can we be protected from these projects without proper setbacks?” she asked the county board.
Goodhue Wind’s developers, however, say the setback would impose unnecessary burdens on wind developers.
Chuck Burdick, senior wind developer with National Wind, the company that manages Goodhue Wind, said the company has already voluntarily agreed to setbacks of 1,500 feet, a level well over what is typically set by similar projects, he said. The state standard is 750 feet.
He said efforts by those opposing the projects to paint wind turbines as noisy, dangerous scars on the landscape ignore the reality of wind energy.
“The fear is disproportionate to the facts,” he said. “If I believed what people have alleged, I wouldn’t be doing this job.”
County commissioners, who took up the ordinance after it spent more than five months in subcommittee hearings, disagreed widely on its provisions.
Commissioners Ron Allen, Ted Seifert and Richard Samuelson voted in favor of the updated ordinance.
Allen said that while the ordinance only technically applies to projects between 1 and 5 megawatts, he hopes it will influence the Minnesota Public Utility Commission’s ultimate decision on the project, which is expected later this month.
The agency has regulatory authority over wind projects over five megawatts, but state statutes require it consider county ordinances in its decision-making.
Allen said his vote was swayed by the nearly 50 people who spoke out against the project at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. The adamant opposition convinced him that Goodhue County isn’t right for large-scale commercial wind projects, he said.
“I’ve never seen this kind of anger against a project,” he said.
Commissioners Jim Bryant and Dan Rechtzigel voiced opposition to the updated ordinance, though each cited different reasons for doing so.
Rechtzigel pointed to noise and shadow flicker standards that were stricken from the final ordinance passed by the board. He told the R-E that the county planning commission had spent months researching those standards and had hoped that they would make the setbacks unnecessary in some cases.
“If I knew the board wasn’t going to apply our research, I would have asked them to pass this back in May,” he said. “They could have saved us a lot of time.”
Bryant, for his part, said the ordinance relied too heavily on the testimony of those opposed the project, effectively steamrolling the interests of area landowners participating in commercial wind projects.
“I’d like to have seen a little more flexibility,” he said.
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