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Goodhue County approves simplified wind ordinance

RED WING – The Goodhue County Board charged the Planning Commission with crafting a new wind energy ordinance early this year. A special subcommittee was created in early May to weigh the controversial issue, with a massive wind farm planned for the county.

When the near-unanimous recommendation finally came back from the nine-person commission for Tuesday’s review – after hundreds of hours of research and contentious debate – the board responded by leaving some of the most heavily discussed issues on the cutting room floor.

Zero tolerance for shadow flicker for non-participants? Forget about it.

Stricter sound provisions than the state-mandated 50 decibels? Gone.

The simplified version proposed by commissioner Richard Samuelson will instead rely exclusively on one thing: a 10-rotor diameter setback for non-participants, which was the most important issue for many residents. The setback for participants was also reduced from 1,000 feet to 750.

The 3-2 vote to adopt that language caused a shudder from commissioner Dan Rechtzigel, who argued for adopting his subcommittee’s more thorough standards.

“I’m looking back on the last three months and it’s almost like why did I spend the time?” said Rechtzigel, who is the only member of the county board to also serve on the PAC

“I feel like the planning commission spent, jeez, days working on this and then to see two key things taken out… Maybe I took it too much to heart.”

National Wind senior wind developer Ben Kerl said during the extensive public comment period, which included 70 statements that almost all bumped up against the three-minute time limit, that the many of the subcommittee’s standards were too stringent to be feasible for his 78-megawatt AWA Goodhue wind farm project. That project had led the county to update its wind ordinance amid much heated talk.

Though two major concerns were subsequently knocked off Kerl’s list in the meeting that lasted almost seven hours, Chuck Burdick of National Wind still feels the requirements are impractical.

“That kind of setback would all but eliminate wind development in the state of Minnesota,” Burdick said.

The 10-rotor-diameter setback, while flexible, could force the 32,000-acre AWA Goodhue project to adopt a setback of 2,475 feet, which is much larger than the company’s proposed distance of 1,500 feet. The state requires a minimum of 500 feet.

Samuelson called his amendment a compromise, later noting he believes wind energy “has a place in Goodhue County.”