The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued a site permit for the Big Blue Wind Farm on Aug. 11 with one stipulation: construction is prohibited until the Avian and Bat Protection Plan is approved by the PUC.
“We have been in the process of working on a protection plan for over a year now,” lead project engineer Dustin Shively says. “We want to have a draft finalized by next month.”
After the plan is accepted by the PUC, a preconstruction meeting will be held with officials from the office of Energy and Security.
Shively says after those two requirements are met, construction on the Big Blue Wind Farm in Jo Daviess Township will begin. The engineer says the project start date is subject to change, but he hopes the construction will be under way by October.
Before the Avian and Bat Protection Plan is accepted, the Exergy Development Group must show plans are in place to ensure the safety of protected species.
The most significant wildlife issue is the location of a bald eagle’s nest within the project area. The nest was found through a Wildlife Baselines Studies Interim Report.
Exergy is in the process of determining the flight path of the eagles to determine risks following construction of the turbines.
Preliminary findings suggest the eagles are leaving the nest in the northeast direction, but are coming back from all directions. This may require Exergy to move the nest from its current habitat.
DNR officials also expressed concerns over a pair of state-listed threatened trumpeter swans nesting half mile south of the project site. The completed Avian and Bat Protection Plan must address the issues of fatalities and observations of protected species such as the trumpeter swan and bald eagle. Exergy Energy, the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are all working together on the matter.
After acceptance of the protection plan, construction will begin on the 36 megawatt project. The wind farm is spread across 15,000 acres, with 47 acres of land being occupied to accommodate turbines and associated infrastructure such as transformers and access roads. The project will consist of 24 1.5 megawatt towers or 18 2.5 megawatt generators.
One of the core issues surrounding the development has been settled. Exergy has agreed to bury all of the feeder lines.
“For economic viability purposes, we wanted overhead power lines,” Shively says. “We decided to bury all of the lines because we didn’t want to do anything the community would not approve of.”
Preliminary estimates indicated an increased cost of $6 million to bury all of the feeder lines.
Shively says suggestions from all parties involved in the wind farm has lead to a higher quality project.
“It has been a privilege to work with land owners, the county and the state,” Shively says. “I am glad we have the opportunity to hear everyone’s thoughts and opinions.”
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