MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Facing the loss of $37 million in economic stimulus dollars, a representative of National Wind’s AWA Goodhue Wind project on Tuesday told state regulators the company is willing to negotiate.
The company’s latest proposal calls for working with a “lead commissioner” to negotiate parameters for the 32,500-acre wind project in Goodhue County.
National Wind made the proposal before Tuesday’s meeting, during which the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 4-0 not to reconsider an October vote that gave project opponents a key victory.
Goodhue County residents have cited wind-turbine noise, insufficient setbacks, a variety of health problems and such wind-turbine-related occurrences as “shadow flicker” as reasons for their opposition to the project.
David Boyd, chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, said after the hearing that the case now goes into a contested-case hearing phase, which usually lasts about six months – unless the wind developer and anti-wind activists enter alternative dispute resolution.
However, Boyd said he doubts the issues regarding the 78-megawatt wind project that has polarized Goodhue County can be resolved via alternative dispute resolution.
In early October, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners voted a unanimous 5-0 to establish a setback for turbines of more than one-half of one mile.
National Wind officials say such a restrictive setback could eliminate all wind development in the county.
After Tuesday’s vote by the utilities commission, Chuck Burdick, senior wind developer for Minneapolis-based National Wind, said the company was disappointed.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that the Public Utilities Commission wouldn’t make a decision on the case,” Burdick said. “They should end this hand-wringing.”
Burdick characterized the opposition as being uninterested “in a rational solution to siting alternative energy.”
Three of the five Goodhue County Commissioners, however, are now indicating they will support the wind-turbine project – if the turbine noise is held to 40 decibels, which is 10 decibels below Minnesota’s 50-decibel noise limit for wind farms.
The three Goodhue County commissioners are Jim Bryant, Dan Rechtzigel and Richard Samuelson, who represents the southwest portion of the county that includes the land that would contain National Wind’s AWA Goodhue wind turbines.
The three sent letters to the members of the Public Utilities Commission in advance of Tuesday’s hearing.
Why the change in position? “Just to look for some kind of compromise to bring this to an end,” Samuelson said after Tuesday’s hearing. “It would be nice to see this thing settled once and for all; it’s been two years.”
He said AWA Goodhue representatives have contacted him. “Yeah, they have presented their idea.” Samuelson emphasized that noise is the biggest issue cited by his constituents.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, National Wind officials sent an 11th-hour letter to Burl Haar, the commission’s executive secretary, saying they’re interested in compromising to move the project forward.
The letter, signed by AWA Goodhue attorney Todd Guerrero, states that a contested case lasting at least six months is unnecessary because the utilities commission can vote against Goodhue County’s wind-energy standards, which are stricter than those of other counties.
Wrote Guerrero: “The county process is cumbersome and dominated by politics, and adherence to open meeting laws, while critically important, hinders open dialogue.”
The lead commissioner approach, he continued, would allow the public utilities commissioner to conduct a hearing, rather than an administrative law judge.
“This means that a lead commissioner could make inquiry into the reasonableness of the county’s standards, but do so on a much more informal and expedited manner,” Guerrero wrote.
Such an approach seemingly would give AWA Goodhue an advantage – and a way to garner the economic stimulus money it needs to help pay for the project, according to Burdick.
But the commission’s inaction Tuesday creates “grave concerns” about developing the project, Burdick said.
Pending completion of the project by Dec. 31, 2011, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy has agreed to buy energy generated by the wind farm, which could range between 34 and 50 1.5-megawatt turbines.
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