We would like to bring your attention to an issue that has been developing for the last several years in regard to our energy policy. Understanding the current mandates on the production of energy in the state of Minnesota, we would suggest that our policy must be refined. The recent report and request by Xcel Energy indicates the per-kilowatt cost of electricity is projected to rise from about 8 cents now to 11 cents by 2016 – an increase of 37.5 percent. This is specifically associated with our mandate for wind power. First and foremost, we should be allowing technology to drive new innovation in a cost’ efficient manner. With the track record of our two nuclear operating facilities producing clean energy in the most efficient manner, we have the luxury of time to allow for new technology to develop.
This being said, we accept the fact that as a legislature we have decided to mandate specific energy sources. However, our current approach to the siteing and permitting of wind facilities is extremely loose and we have taken a cookie cutter approach for the entire state. The current project in Goodhue County has magnified the problem and divided a community. It is clear that a much higher population density, coupled with the topography of the area has resulted in a battle between the minority that would financially benefit from allowing a windmill on their land against the majority that would have to live within it’s shadow.
The arguments that we have heard from local residents against the development of this project in Goodhue County are credible. Many of these persuasive arguments seem to accurately capture the contrast between the characteristics of Goodhue County and those of the locations further south and west that have enjoyed so much support and success in the development of wind energy conversion systems. The arguments that we find most persuasive and believe begin to answer the question of why this project is so widely accepted in those locations and so widely opposed in Goodhue County include:
1. Population density and farming type. The WECS in western and extreme southern Minnesota are built in areas dominated by large crop farming operations and in areas with residential building densities of one to three dwellings per square mile. The rural population is very sparse and the number of livestock operations is relatively low. The area proposed in Goodhue County is in the middle of Minnesota’s dairy belt, which contributes to the very strong and credible concerns over the potential for increases in stray voltage. Fanners in Goodhue County either have experienced or know of dairy operators who have experienced stray voltage problems, with some of these cases resulting in the destruction of the dairy farm business. Their concerns over increases in stray voltage problems are very well-founded. The density of residential buildings in the proposed project area is in the range of five to six dwellings per square mile, or two to six times more dense than the other areas described earlier. We believe, after hearing from hundreds of constituents on this issue, that the population density amongst which this project is proposed to be built, contributes directly to the very high level of opposition that the project proposal has received.
2. Terrain and topographical realities. The terrain in Goodhue County is dominated by rolling hills and bluffs. These topographic features bring with them a picturesque landscape, providing features that contribute to an inherently high demand for the land. The proposal to position large industrial scale windmills on these properties diminishes the perceived value of the land and exacerbates the negative visual impact that many landowners adjacent to such a wind development would experience.
3. The cities of Zumbrota and Goodhue. Each of these cities has expressed opposition to the development as have the surrounding townships. The city of Zumbrota would be burdened with a portion of the development within just over 1 mile of the current city limits. There is no doubt, given the future development expected along the US Highway 52 corridor that the proposed development would hinder Zumbrota’s ability to grow. This is especially concerning given the fact that the city has invested $250,000 to bring utility service to an area of anticipated development that is now proposed to be covered with a wind development.
4. Values of adjacent private property. The discussions around private’ property values due to the proposed development are salient. Real estate agents in Goodhue County, as well as local landowners who have already listed and attempted to sell their property agree that property values will be negatively affected by the imposition of an industrial wind farm next to these scenic properties. Some estimates suggest that the prices could experience a drop of 30% or greater. At the same time, some landowners in (much different) western Minnesota suggest that property values are not affected or may actually increase because of on-site wind energy developments. While there is a difference between the effect that a wind energy facility can have on the value of land upon which it is built and non-turbine hosting land next door, one would also expect to anticipate a difference in the effects on property values due to the level of acceptance or non-acceptance of the developments by the community.
Finally, we would like to highlight that fact that CBED status was needed to make this specific project viable. That, in itself, should give reason for us to pause and evaluate the project. The wind company applied and was given this status. As you know this allows the wind companies to demand a higher price for the energy they sell to Xcel Energy. We now see the outcome of this entire process as we pointed out in our first paragraph. We have now come full circle and Xcel is requesting the rate increases.
What have we accomplished? We have simply forced a wind project into an area that the majority of its population does not want and is clearly not financially viable on its own. To make matters worse, we have increased the cost of energy to all of the citizens serviced by Xcel Energy because we are paying a higher rate to a wind company that chose an area to develop that could not supply the wind energy in a cost effective manner.
We would appreciate your comments and direction to the PUC in suggesting that they do not permit this project in Goodhue County and work with us in creating a permitting process that allows for local control and input in the development of wind energy. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Representative Tim Kelly
Representative Steve Drazkowski
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