Public Utilities Commission will take up motions to reconsider.
The case of the controversial $180 million wind-power project in Goodhue County ain’t over yet.
Sixteen motions were filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on the Monday deadline asking the commission to reconsider its June 30 decision to grant the project a certificate of need and site permit.
A spokesman for the PUC said the commission would take up the motions on an unspecified date in October.
In his motion to reconsider, Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher argued that this “is not the project like all others that should be routinely permitted to maintain momentum for wind development in Minnesota …
“This is the bad apple that needs to be culled from the wind development barrel before it rots the rest of the apples in the public eye.”
The 50-turbine, $180 million wind farm that the developer, AWA Goodhue Wind LLC, wants to spread over a broad swath of 32,000 acres in Belle Creek and Minneola townships in southeastern Minnesota’s Goodhue County has caused controversy from the start.
A steadfast group of residents has maintained that this project was poorly conceived and designed too close to homes and farms – and, most recently, too many nests of federally protected bird species like bald eagles.
“Wind development is progressing successfully all over the state of Minnesota, except where AWA Goodhue Wind is responsible for that development process,” Betcher wrote. “Is it the company’s fault, or the residents’ fault – or is it just a bad match that no one could see coming?”
Minneapolis-based National Wind formed the AWA Goodhue Wind LLC entity, and AWA Goodhue is in turn owned by the Dallas-based Mesa Power Group; billionaire entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens founded Mesa Power.
National Wind/AWA Goodhue Wind did not return calls seeking comment.
Two GOP state representatives whose districts cover the area, Tim Kelly and Steve Drazkowski, have consistently opposed the project.
In a letter to the PUC dated Sept. 8, Kelly and Drazkowski argue that the PUC should reconsider its decision because the agency improperly certified the project as a “community-based energy development.”
Kelly and Drazkowski say the project violates several qualifications for that certification, including one that says the project’s developer “must have its principal place of business in Minnesota.” Dallas-based Mesa Power owns 99 percent of the project.
The PUC was ready to approve the wind project last fall. But in early October, Goodhue County passed an ordinance requiring that wind farm developers place any turbines at least 10 rotor diameters – or about 2,700 feet – away from nonparticipating residents. Turbine setbacks are usually around 1,000 feet.
National Wind eventually said it would erect turbines with setbacks of 1,500 feet for landowners who had not already signed on to the project.
But Goodhue County persisted, and the PUC ordered hearings before an administrative judge in the spring. That judge sided with National Wind, and the PUC issued its amendment-laden site permit June 30.
One of the major amendments in the site permit is a minimum six-rotor-diameter (1,626 feet) setback requirement for the project – though the developer can go back to the PUC to explain if it cannot meet the 1,626-foot requirement.
National Wind also is studying the safety issues facing bats and bald eagles – another PUC requirement.
In her motion to reconsider, Jean Schulte, a Goodhue resident and a registered nurse, argued that the PUC needs to consider new information in the August issue of a peer-reviewed journal, the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, about the potential adverse health effects of wind turbine noise.
The whole issue is devoted to wind turbine noise, Schulte wrote to the commission.
“The scientific community is recognizing the health problems linked to wind turbines. Accumulating evidence is providing more support, not less, for the theory that adverse health effects result from living in close proximity to” large wind projects, Schulte wrote.
Opponents of the project also have until Sept. 22 to file an appeal of the PUC’s ruling with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, said Dan Wolf, assistant executive secretary of the PUC.
The PUC has yet to receive notice of an appeal filed with the Court of Appeals.
“Now, it is possible that the Court of Appeals could stay an appeal until the commission takes final action on the reconsideration petitions, and that could very well be the case, but that is up to the court,” Wolf told Finance & Commerce in an e-mail.
In an interview, Betcher said the real fight is just beginning – and it’s probably going to get heated.
“My impression is that this could get pretty contentious – this is a $180 million bone, and we’re going to take it out from under their [the developer’s] nose and put it back in the freezer.”
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