ST. PAUL – Dozens of Goodhue County residents filed into the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing room Thursday morning. Having experienced nothing positive during four previous trips to St. Paul to argue against a proposed wind farm in the county, members of Goodhue Wind Truth have come to rely on their numbers for support.
The five-member commission agreed to send the issue to an administrative law judge to further develop the public record, especially how a new county ordinance governing wind farms affects the AWA Goodhue project. That’s expected to delay proceedings for about six months, giving Goodhue Wind Truth something to celebrate.
Goodhue County officials told the commission why the county included a 10-rotor diameter setback in the ordinance.
State Reps. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, implored the commission to deny the project’s certificate of need and final site permit.
“If we approve this project in the face of so much opposition, we divide a community,” Kelly said. “We pit neighbor against neighbor.”
Drazkowski said, “At what point do these developments get too close (to residents)? Is it Goodhue County? Is it Dakota County? Is it Hennepin County? I’d assert, commissioners, that we’ve reached that point.”
Chad Ryan, chairman of the Belle Creek Township Board, said that “I think people in Goodhue County made a positive step forward today. We were listened to and heard by people who actually wanted to listen.”
Steve Groth said that “to have your state representatives and your county commissioners come up and speak for you, oh man. You know you’re on the right trail. It’s not going unnoticed.”
The extra six months extends the response time to AWA Goodhue’s project application to 18 months; the state typically responds in fewer than 12 monhts. The delay also throws into question the future of the 32,000-acre, 50-turbine project.
National Wind, the AWA Goodhue project developer, must begin construction in 2010 to be eligible for a 30 percent grant from the government. Thursday’s decision means the company will have to accept instead a production tax credit, which company attorney Todd Guerrero said means a financial difference of “millions and millions.”
AWA Goodhue has a power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy, but the sunset date is Dec. 31, 2011. Renegotiating the agreement is difficult, according to project developer Chuck Burdick, and requires approval from the public utilities commission. A typical wind project takes six to 12 months to become fully operational so AWA Goodhue would probably have to try to extend the sunset date by at least a few months.
Guerrero pressed the commission to expedite the administrative law judge’s review, but commissioner J. Dennis O’Brien refused and added to his motion that the review proceed at a “thorough and deliberate speed.” That didn’t sit well with representatives of the wind company.
“I guess I don’t know what more record needs to be developed,” Burdick said. “There’s already hundreds, if not thousands, of papers already on record. … I feel like this has been a lengthy and thorough process to date and there’s not sufficient reason to drag it out any further.”
Burdick said he and his associates would spend the next few days reviewing material and examining their options. Many Goodhue County residents rushed home to their farms with smiles on their faces.
“I think you could buy Goodhue Wind stock pretty cheap right now,” Ryan quipped.
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