ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decided Tuesday to deny AWA Goodhue’s petition for a rehearing of its October ruling, which is expected to delay proceedings for about six months, pending review by an administrative law judge.
None of the four commissioners – one was absent – expressed any interest in reopening the case. That includes PUC chairman David C. Boyd, who was the lone member to vote against the initial decision.
That didn’t sit well with National Wind senior wind developer Chuck Burdick, the project’s developer, who says the future of the project remains up in the air.
“I’m very confused on what facts they think they’re missing,” Burdick said.
The decision caps what’s been a whirlwind week for wind news within Goodhue County.
Goodhue County decided last week to take part in the contested case hearing with the administrative law judge, joining AWA Goodhue, Belle Creek Township, two opposition groups and the cities of Goodhue and Zumbrota. The first pre-hearing meeting was held Friday, where the judge requested each party submit the issues they feel should be investigated by early December.
AWA Goodhue will spend the next week deciding whether to take part in the process that will decide the project’s fate.
“We’re not interested in taking part in a lengthy, protracted process just for the fun of it,” Burdick said. “We’re willing to take part in the short term.
“We’ve spent five or six million pursuing this project based on the existing rules. To have complete uncertainty at this point is baffling.”
It’s unclear how the hearing would be affected if the main party were to drop out of the discussion.
To avoid having to make such a dramatic decision, AWA Goodhue submitted a letter Tuesday morning requesting that the PUC send the issue to mediation, which would likely lead to a quicker decision. The wind company is at risk of losing significant government funding the longer the process lasts.
That request was also denied.
AWA Goodhue proposes to build a 78-megawatt wind farm with up to 52 turbines between Goodhue and Zumbrota.
Last week, Goodhue County commissioner Richard Samuelson raised some eyebrows when he changed positions on the county’s wind ordinance, which he had proposed at the Oct. 5 meeting. He called his vote “a mistake,” which drew instant criticism from fellow commissioner Ron Allen and Jeff Hommedahl, whom Samuelson defeated by just 87 votes in the Nov. 2 election.
Commissioners Jim Bryant and Dan Rechtzigel also oppose the recently adopted ordinance, meaning it no longer has the majority support of the board. All three sent letters to the PUC reflecting their views last week, further rankling Allen and commissioner Ted Seifert, who represented the county at the Oct. 21 PUC meeting.
PUC commissioner J. Dennis O’Brien acknowledged the letters during the rehearing discussion but downplayed their importance.
“If the county wants to change its mind, I hope it does so before it gets back to us,” O’Brien said. “And by changing its mind, I don’t mean letters from commissioners. I mean changing its ordinance.”
Lisa Hanni, Goodhue County’s land use management director, said the ordinance could be updated after a request from a citizen or at the request of the county board. No such requests had been made as of Tuesday afternoon.
If such a decision was made, it would start another public comment period that would take at least two months, according to Hanni.
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