MINNEAPOLIS, MN – If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
That appears to be the mantra of National Wind and AWA Goodhue LLC, which is trying to persuade the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to change its mind.
On Friday, lawyers for corporate entity AWA Goodhue filed a petition asking the PUC to reconsider its application for a certificate of need and a site permit. Minneapolis-based National Wind is developing and managing a Goodhue County wind-power project on behalf of AWA Goodhue, which has local investors as well as outside investors, including Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens.
The petition also requests another hearing to decide AWA applications for the site permit and certificate.
AWA’s request comes roughly two weeks after PUC decided, in a 4-1 ruling, to delay making a decision on the company’s applications. On Oct. 21, the PUC – faced with an onslaught of opposition from Goodhue County residents – voted to transfer the case back to Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman, asking him to gather more information from both sides and provide recommendations. Based on those recommendations, the PUC plans to make a final ruling.
That PUC decision has delayed the project and has real financial implications on the developer. At that Oct. 21 hearing, an attorney repeatedly reminded the commissioners that the project needs to start this year to take advantage of federal stimulus dollars tied to renewable energy development. In the end, the commissioners went against the recommendation of their own staff by delaying a decision and handing a victory to residents present at the meeting.
Those residents argue that industrial wind farms have a variety of adverse health effects and urged the PUC to apply a “10-rotor” diameter setback that Goodhue County adopted if commissioners approved AWA’s site permit and certificate of need. The setback refers to the distance (10 times the diameter of the rotor blades) at which the wind turbines need to be built from the homes of landowners not participating in the wind project.
And therein lies the dilemma.
Minnesota statute dictates that local governments such as counties can adopt more stringent standards for Large Wind Energy Conversions Systems and the PUC is required to apply those standards unless there is “good cause” not to.
There is no real definition of what constitutes “good cause,” because that issue has never been litigated in the state. In its petition to the PUC on Friday, the attorney for AWA argues that ” ‘good cause’ is not a factual issue that needs to be determined based on a contested trial-like proceeding.”
And that is exactly what the proceeding will be when ALJ Lipman reviews the evidence from both parties.
The petition continues that “good cause” is simply factors that allow “good common sense to prevail.”
Among other things, the wind developer asks the commissioners to reject the 10-rotor setback standard because it makes the project unfeasible, also arguing that that distance is “unnecessary to public safety.”
The petition also issues a warning to the PUC saying that if the 10-RD setback is adopted, then wind development in the entire state would come to a halt. It also urges the commission to apply the lower setback requirement the state has used in the past to encourage wind development in other parts of the state.
A PUC spokesman said Friday that the staff has not had the time to review the petition and will do so early next week.
A Goodhue County resident, who spoke at the Oct. 21 meeting and is one of the more vocal opponents of the project, dismissed the latest move by the wind developer.
“It’s basically a repetition,” said Steve Groth about the 17-page petition. “I don’t think it’s going to have any effect.”
Also Friday, unrelated to the petition AWA filed, the PUC finalized the order deferring a decision on the developer’s application. Under Minnesota law, applicants should receive a decision within 12 months, unless the commission can provide a “good cause” for extension.
In that document, PUC concluded that based on its decision for a contested case proceeding there is “good cause” for a deferral.
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