MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Minnesota’s outgoing economic development commissioner is throwing his weight behind a proposed wind project in Goodhue County while the county tries to impose restrictions on large wind-farm development.
Dan McElroy, head of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, sent a letter Dec. 8 expressing his “strongest support” for a 78-megawatt wind project that he says could have a significant economic impact.
“Not only will this project enhance Minnesota’s position as a national leader in wind production, but it will have a major economic impact in southeastern Minnesota,” McElroy writes.
The letter was sent to administrative law judge Kathleen Sheehy, who is looking at the controversial project at the request of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
A Goodhue County commissioner acknowledged that jobs would be created but said he was more concerned about residents, some of whom fear that living too close to wind farms has negative health effects.
“Our job is to see that our citizens are protected,” said Ted Seifert, a Goodhue County commissioner.
Those concerns led the county to adopt a strict ordinance that, if applied by the PUC, would kill the project developed by Minneapolis-based National Wind.
National Wind, which wants to build a 50-turbine wind farm on behalf of AWA Goodhue LLC, sought the support of the DEED commissioner to bolster its case before Sheehy.
“We asked for his support and are very pleased that he gave it,” said Joe Jennings, a National Wind spokesman.
In the letter posted on PUC’s website, McElroy writes that a DEED analysis has found that 916 jobs will be created in the first year of the wind project’s construction. Further, between 42 and 90 jobs will be created during the first four years of operation and beyond, according to the letter.
The numbers are based on computer models that take into account direct, indirect and induced impact of a project.
But the employment estimates from National Wind are quite a bit lower than DEED’s.
National Wind’s Jennings said that 100 to 150 construction jobs are to be created over a six- to nine-month period. Another five permanent jobs are anticipated as a result of the project.
“Our estimates are conservative estimates that are based on direct effects of the project, such as people employed in construction,” Jennings said. “We are comfortable with our numbers.”
A DEED spokesman said that the commissioner routinely offers letters of support for projects that have an economic impact, but he wasn’t sure whether McElroy was aware of National Wind’s employment estimates.
“We conducted an economic analysis of the project and felt it was important to get our findings on the record,” said Monte Hanson, a DEED spokesman.
Some Goodhue County residents are unhappy with McElroy’s letter.
“I don’t know where [McElroy] got his information from and how he reached those conclusions,” said Paul Reese, a resident of Goodhue Township and a vocal critic of wind projects, on Tuesday. “I don’t think this makes sense.”
Another resident was less forgiving in an e-mail to McElroy.
“Have you lost your mind?” wrote Kristi Rosenquist, who forwarded a copy of her e-mail to Finance & Commerce. “Or is this a political favor for someone? Not even the wind company claims more than 2-5 jobs after initial construction.”
Reese and Rosenquist are two of the residents who were successful in getting Goodhue County commissioners to adopt a stricter wind ordinance in October. Under the new ordinance, wind turbines need to be constructed at a distance of 10 rotor diameters (in this case, 2,700 feet) from the residences of landowners who have not leased their land to wind developers.
National Wind representatives repeatedly have insisted said that the 10-RD requirement would kill the project. They have asked the PUC to ignore the local ordinance in granting its applications for a site permit and certificate of need.
But the PUC has twice declined to make a decision on AWA’s application.
Instead, commissioners have shifted the burden on to Judge Sheehy with the Office of Administrative Hearings. One of the issues that Sheehy has to sort out is a term contained in a Minnesota statute. The law requires PUC to apply stricter local wind ordinances unless there is “good cause” not to.
As the case goes to a contested hearing, the goal of National Wind is to get a quick and speedy resolution – within 60 days. The project could have accessed a $37 million federal grant if AWA Goodhue could begin construction this year. Now the developers have to wait to get a production tax credit.
Seifert, the Goodhue County commissioner, questions the true economic benefit highlighted by McElroy if taxpayers are subsidizing businesses.
“[McElroy] is in charge of developing jobs throughout the state, so I don’t have a problem with the commissioner putting in his two bits about the project, but how much of this is plain tax subsidy?” Seifert said.
By the numbers
Number of direct, indirect and induced jobs from the Goodhue wind project
Source: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
Direct construction jobs created from the same project
Source: project developer National Wind
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