August 4, 2011

Waiting for wind permit, Goodhue County explores options

By: Danielle Nordine, The Republican Eagle, 4 August 2011

As the state hammers out the details of a permit for a wind farm project in Belle Creek Township, Goodhue County officials are exploring their options if they find the result to be less than desirable.

The state government shutdown has delayed hard copies of documents, including minutes, from the June 30 Public Utilities Commission meeting on the issue, County Attorney Steve Betcher told the Goodhue County Board on Tuesday.

And without the written record, it’s hard to know exactly how AWA Goodhue Wind’s permit will turn out, Betcher said.

Office of Energy Services and Public Utilities Commission staffers are working on the permit for the 78-megawatt wind farm, a process that could take anywhere from a few weeks to months, Betcher said.

Within 20 days after the permit is released, parties can petition the PUC for reconsideration if they believe it made mistakes in its rationale or decisions.

Those with that option include not only the county, but the other players involved, including Goodhue Wind.

“It’s very possible that both sides are unhappy with the outcome,” Betcher said.

Among other conditions, the PUC said Goodhue Wind must make a “good faith effort” to negotiate waivers with non-participating property owners and place turbines at least six rotor diameters away from those homes – about 120 feet more than the company originally proposed.

The PUC also will require the wind company to conduct studies to ensure the safety of bats, eagles and other birds in the area.

Outside of filing for reconsideration, parties also can appeal the PUC’s final decision and take it to the appellate court, Betcher said. But he advised the county against that option.

“With the courts, we’re basically starting from scratch,” he said. The PUC confirmed the county’s right to pass the ordinance and upheld some of the spirit of it, Betcher said, something that can’t be guaranteed in court proceedings.

Either way, “I think we’re better off waiting for the permit,” Commissioner Ron Allen said.

The PUC might have been hesitant to apply the county’s entire ordinance since it cropped up so far into the permitting process, Betcher said, but added he was hopeful the commission would use it in the future.

“It will be a level playing field for everyone coming in,” he said.

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