In what administrative law Judge Kathleen D. Sheehy described as a “unique proceeding,” proponents and opponents of a controversial wind project in Goodhue County began a three-day contested case hearing Tuesday in St. Paul.
“This is a unique proceeding; I don’t think there’s ever been one like this before,” Sheehy said, referring to more than 5,500 pages of testimony already submitted.
Sheehy will determine whether the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) could overrule wind turbine setbacks passed in 2010 by the Goodhue County board.
The hearing centers on the county’s 2,706-foot setbacks – equal to 10 rotor diameters (10 RD) of turbines proposed for the project. Goodhue County’s setback is more than five times the 500-foot minimum state turbine setback if noise levels are less than 50 decibels.
Several public safety concerns also have been raised by two groups opposing the wind project, Goodhue Wind Truth and Citizens for Sensible Siting.
If it is built, the 78-megawatt AWA Goodhue Wind LLC development would include 50 wind turbines on 12,000 acres near the cities of Zumbrota and Goodhue.
Developers say they already have spent $7.6 million on project development and want to complete the wind farm by the end of the year to take advantage of $37 million in renewable energy tax credits. The federal credits are scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
Among Sheehy’s first actions: rejecting YouTube videos of wind turbines submitted by anti-wind groups.
“YouTube videos are not reliable evidence,” Sheehy remarked after supporting a motion by AWA Goodhue Wind to strike them from evidence. She said such videos are low quality and often come from unknown sources.
After a complaint from an AWA Goodhue Wind attorney, Sheehy also scolded Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher for submitting disorganized documents – many of them duplicates – in support of the 10RD turbine setback from dwellings.
Testimony and cross-examination of Chuck Burdick, senior wind developer for National Wind, demonstrated why both sides are in court more than two years after the wind farm was first proposed in 2008. (National Wind formed a corporate entity called AWA Goodhue Wind LLC for the project.)
In direct testimony, Burdick said the Goodhue County setback would eliminate 43 of 50 turbine sites, killing the project.
He said the cumulative impact of Goodhue County’s setback and state wetlands regulations wipes out 99.8 percent of land available for turbines.
During cross-examination of Burdick, Betcher asked a variety of questions about less-stringent 750-foot setbacks agreed to by participants in the wind project.
He also questioned why the project’s representatives had not contacted more residents or increased the amount it paid to prospective project landowners.
At one point, Sheehy interrupted Betcher. “I don’t understand the relevance,” she said. “… This is the first I’ve heard that one of the goals of (Goodhue County) was to encourage more participation.”
Testimony from the anti-wind groups is expected Wednesday as the hearing resumes at 9 a.m. in the large hearing room of the PUC’s headquarters at 121 Seventh Place E. in St. Paul.
By the numbers
Turbines to be built in proposed AWA Goodhue Wind project
Acres in wind project near Zumbrota and Goodhue
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