Once again, two area companies are applying to build wind turbines near Northfield. And once again, nearby property owners are making their angry, sometimes tearful protests heard.
During an emotional meeting on Thursday night, residents pleaded, argued and tried to persuade an embattled Rice County Planning Commission to delay the approval of recommendations for eight wind turbines that would be developed in northeastern Rice County by two separate companies.
But the Planning Commission, operating under county ordinances that permit the construction of turbines as long as they meet certain setback and construction conditions, approved recommendations for six 326-foot tall wind turbines. Citing a letter from Northfield Interim City Administrator Tim Madigan urging delay, the commission stopped short of recommending the approval of two 400-foot-tall turbines, which could be sited a half-mile southeast of Northfield city limits.
Scattered across four Rice County townships and capable of producing as much as one megawatt of power each, the six turbines that received preliminary approval would be constructed by Gro Wind LLC. – a company presided over by Leone Medin.
Medin was a co-owner of Medin Renewable Energy, which attempted to construct the 11-turbine Greenvale Township wind farm in Dakota County along with another company, Sparks Energy. The companies’ plans failed last year after the wind farm ran into heavy opposition from township residents.
According to permit applications submitted by the companies to Rice County, the two turbines that did not receive preliminary approval from the Planning Commission would be developed by Spring Creek Wind LLC., co-owned by Anna Schmalzbauer, Medin’s daughter.
Schmalzbauer, reached after the Thursday meeting, said her company is not affiliated in any way with Gro Wind LLC., despite the familial connection. Each of the two turbines proposed by Sparks Energy could produce as much as two megawatts of power, energy which will feed directly into Dundas’ power grid, according to Schmalzbauer, and could be used to power up to 800 homes locally.
Schmalzbauer said her company has done as much as it can to take into account residents’ concerns, even meeting with every resident within a quarter-mile radius of the two proposed towers to make them aware of the possible project. The nearest residence from either tower, according to the application, is roughly 1,000 ft. away, nearly two times the 514-foot setback distance required by county ordinance. Schmalzbauer said the company chose that site because of a combination of factors: The landowner’s willingness to help develop the project, the elevation of the site (approximately 120 feet above the surrounding area) and the good wind conditions measured at the site. According to the permit application, the life of the turbine is expected to be as much as 25 years.
But the precautions taken by both Gro Wind and Spring Creek Wind weren’t enough for many area residents, who criticized the proposals put forward by both companies.
“I’m shocked and appalled that these proposals are passing through here with rubber stamps,” rural Northfield resident Marlene Halverson told the Rice County Planning Commission during the meeting.
“This is going to have an absolutely devastating impact on us if this goes through,” said rural Nerstrand resident Ron McDonald, whose idyllic farmhouse is located roughly 1,400 ft. away from two turbine sites proposed by Gro Wind.
McDonald’s wife, Diane, has a rare and intensely painful neurological condition that is triggered by flickering lights and noise. In 1991, the couple moved from Burnsville to a wooded lot in Nerstrand to alleviate Diane’s condition. But the McDonalds worry the noise, motion of the turbine blades or even the blinking aviation navigation light that would be installed on top of the tower could trigger Diane’s attacks. To oppose the turbine, the McDonalds say they’ve started a petition that now has 63 signatures from area residents.
If approved, the eight turbines could be completed as soon as next year. Before construction begins, however, the turbines still have to move through the county’s permitting process. The six turbines that received preliminary approval on Thursday will go before the Rice County Board of Commissioners for final approval on Nov. 23, according to Rice County Zoning Administrator Trent McCorkell. Following board approval, the developers must also receive building permits for the turbines.
The two turbines tabled by the Planning Commission will return to the commission for continued discussion on Dec. 9. If approved by the commission, they, too, must receive final approval from the county board and building permits from the county.
The Northfield City Council is expected to discuss Spring Creek Wind’s turbine plans during a work session on Tuesday. Although the proposed sites are located within the city’s urban reserve, it is still outside city jurisdiction, Northfield administrator Madigan said. Still, the council can choose to issue comments or a statement on the proposal, he added.
Northfield councilors Jim Pokorney and Betsey Buckheit both expressed concern Friday on the project, and whether the proposed turbines may impact residential development plans on the south side of the community.
Medin didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but Schmalzbauer said the turbine construction near Northfield will create local jobs for the community.
“We are committed to moving this project forward, and we’re committed to working with the community,” she said.
— David Henke covers public safety, the arts and business for the Northfield News. Reach him at 645-1100.
WHERE WOULD THE TURBINES BE LOCATED?
Spring Creek Wind LLC., and Gro Wind LLC., have applied for conditional use permits for eight wind turbines scattered across four townships in Rice County. Here are the proposed locations:
• Two, 1.8- to 2.0-megawatt turbines at 8813 110th St. E. in Northfield Township, a half-mile southeast of the Northfield city limits
• Two, 1.0-megawatt turbines at 11387 Kenyon Blvd., south of Nerstrand
• One, 1.0-megawatt turbine at 12500 E. 210 St., south of Nerstrand
• Two, 1.0-megawatt turbines in Section 26 of Northfield Township, near Kvanbeck Trail
• One, 1.0-megawatt turbine in Section 1 of Webster Township, east of the I-35 corridor
ABOUT THE TURBINES
Three different turbines could be installed as part of the projects proposed by Gro Wind LLC., and Spring Creek Wind LLC.
The project applications submitted by Spring Creek calls for the installation of either two Vestas-Americas Wind Technology Inc., V90 turbines or two Gamesa Wind U.S. G90 turbines. Both have three blades and are just over 400 ft. in total height from the base of the tower to the tip of an extended blade, but the G90 can produce up to two megawatts of power, compared the 1.8-megawatt output of the V90.
The application submitted by Gro Wind includes the installation of six Nordic Windpower N1000 turbines. These two-blade models are 326 ft. tall from base to blade tip and produce one megawatt of power.
For contrast, the Carleton College wind turbine is roughly 360 ft. tall and produces 1.65 megawatts of electricity. St. Olaf College’s is of a similar size.
WHY ISN’T THE MINNESOTA PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION INVOLVED?
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission oversees wind energy projects with an output of five megawatts or greater. According to Rice County Zoning Administrator Trent McCorkell, the turbines sites proposed by Gro Wind LLC., and Spring Creek LLC., are considered separate projects of under five megawatts. Because the project is broken up, the utilities commission is not responsible for approval or oversight. That responsibility falls to Rice County instead.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding