The public documents package for Rice County board meetings is usually several stapled documents stacked neatly with a clip.
The documents package Tuesday morning was a four and a half pound binder, its contents the sum of opposition to the conditional use permit request by Spring Creek Wind LLC to build a pair of wind turbines a half-mile south of Northfield’s city limits.
It did not make a hint of difference.
The Rice County Board of Commissioners approved the CUP request 4 to 1, with Commissioner Galen Malecha dissenting. The board unanimously approved a CUP request for the Carleton wind turbine, proposed to the north of the city.
The CUP approval is the last step in the process. Both projects can now begin construction.
Commissioner Malecha said he voted yes to the Carleton project because compared to the Spring Creek project, there was little to no opposition.
“All these projects are unique,” he said. “One is a pear, one is a grapefruit. Every effect of these towers is different depending on the project, depending on where it is. I think we need to take that into account.”
The Carleton project is buffered by the Carleton College Arboretum and is generally considered to be in an area where future residential development is unlikely. The Spring Creek project, however, drew the ire of Northfield residents due to its close proximity to city limits, surrounding homes and the prospects for more dense residential development.
Both turbine projects fall within the county’s Urban Reserve District, designated that way to protect future expansion by the city. Some residents feel the Spring Creek turbine placement could stunt future growth – but county ordinance for wind turbines in URDs is the same as agriculturally zoned land.
Malecha cautioned against the current trend of approving wind projects simply because they meet current county ordinance. He said there is still too much we do not know, and the sheer amount of public opposition to the Spring Creek project is a hint of what is to come if the board stays on its current path.
“Maybe we need to take a step back before we move forward,” he said.
But the rest of the board was adamant: Green energy is in, and there simply is not enough evidence to support denying the CUP requests.
Land value depreciation and adverse health effects were also atop the opposition’s concerns, noted in detail within the binder of opposition documents.
“If you use the land value approach, every single [CUP] request we move impacts land values,” Commissioner Jeff Docken said. He went on to say the bluff where the turbine is proposed is “perfect for catching wind.”
The commissioners also noted that having the turbine close to the demand, and close to a power grid makes sense. Placing the turbines out in the country is getting too expensive.
Commissioner Jake Gillen likened the project to cell phone towers. He said nobody wanted those in their backyard when they first started popping up in Rice County.
“But I bet you all have em’ in your pockets right now,” he said, motioning to the above-average crowd in the Commissioners Room.
Commissioner Milt Plaisance said options for power are thinning.
“They can’t put up coal plants, can’t put up nuclear, can’t put up natural gas because it’s too inefficient,” he said. “Wind makes sense because it has to.”