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Commissioners stand behind county's wind ordinance

Goodhue County commissioners are not on board with presenting new information to the Public Utilities Commission regarding a potential 52-turbine wind farm in the area.

Even though Goodhue County has an ordinance in place to regulate wind projects, the PUC has the final say on whether a permit is given to AWA Goodhue Wind for the area wind project.

Since an administrative law judge developed a recommendation in April that said the county’s ordinance shouldn’t be applied to this particular wind farm, concerned citizens who are against the possible project are developing new arguments.

At Tuesday’s County Board meeting, Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher presented information to the commissioners about documentations – made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and citizen group Goodhue Wind Truth – regarding avian activity in the footprint of the wind project.

Goodhue Wind Truth would like the Public Utilities Commission to require AWA Goodhue Wind to complete an avian study before any permits can be issued for the proposed project. The information was brought to Tuesday’s board meeting to offer county commissioners a chance to support the group’s request for a study.

“The public asked us to put it before (the county commissioners),” Betcher said. “The citizens thought, because there’s new information, should we try to have the commissioners call the PUC’s attention to that?”

With Commissioners Ron Allen and Richard Samuelson absent from the meeting, Betcher offered three options to the remaining three commissioners. They could schedule a special meeting to discuss the issue when everyone would be available, take action and submit something to the PUC or not do anything.

Those who were present chose the latter.

“You’re tasked with the duty of defending our ordinance,” Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said to Betcher. “If our ordinance is defended then this study is not needed.”

Commissioner Jim Bryant agreed.

“What message are we sending to the PUC?” he asked, explaining that the county shouldn’t have the mindset of, “Now that the judge has thrown out our ordinance, how about this?”

Rechtzigel pointed out the numbers of studies done last year before the current ordinance was put into place.

“To come back and say, after all that study, we forgot this issue – I think that’s going to take away,” Rechtzigel said. “I personally think you have to go with the ordinance.”

Although the commissioners don’t want to weaken the county’s position by adding something new and possibly distracting PUC members from what’s already in front of them, Goodhue Wind Truth members still feel the avian issue should be addressed.

“It’s not that this is new, we just didn’t have it previously,” citizen Mary Hartman disputed. “This was always an issue out there, but we couldn’t address it because we didn’t have (any information from AWA Goodhue Wind).”

Betcher will present an oral argument to the PUC at its meeting June 30, and so will other groups.

“There is an opportunity for individuals to convey their own thoughts on this matter directly to the commissioners who will be making the decision,” Betcher explained.

That includes Goodhue Wind Truth and the Coalition for Sensible Siting, another group of concerned citizens, who will each be allowed to speak for 15 minutes.

If you go

Who: Public Utilities Commission

What: AWA Goodhue Wind proposal

When: 9:30 a.m. Thursday June 30

Where: large hearing room, Suite 350, 121 Seventh Place E., St. Paul

More info: 651-296-0406 or www.puc.state.mn.us