The wind project in Goodhue County featured in the Dec. 19 story continues to spark controversy and outrage among citizens living near the site where 50 giant wind turbines will be placed if Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens has his way.
Instead of contributing to the community, the project is tearing it apart.
But at the same time, it has brought together a unique alliance of landowners, concerned farmers and citizens across the political spectrum.
The 78-megawatt AWA Goodhue Wind project led by Pickens raises questions over the status and intentions of Minnesota’s Community Based Energy (C-BED) program. When Minnesota adopted its C-BED statute in 2005, elected officials had good intentions.
The purpose was to expand renewable energy – while protecting communities from large, remote companies whose goal is to extract resources. The idea was that renewable-energy projects would have local ownership to keep economic benefits within the community.
If a renewable-energy project is granted C-BED status, owners can charge Xcel Energy higher rates to buy energy through a private contract. Xcel passes on those higher costs to ratepayers.
However, the private contract conceals the added costs, since it’s considered “trade secret” information.
Problems arise when out-of-state investors take advantage of the lack of transparency in existing statutes, which permit wind developers and utilities to charge higher rates for locally owned renewable energy.
This is precisely what’s happening in Goodhue County.
Although the Goodhue County project may have initially qualified as a C-BED project, it has dramatically changed since it began in 2008.
Today, it may fail to fulfill the C-BED criteria, and unfortunately, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has turned a blind eye.
C-BED law dictates that no single qualifying owner can own more than 15 percent of a C-BED wind energy project. The Goodhue project began small and locally owned but transformed into a large wind development plan.
Instead of the financial benefits of this renewable-energy project staying in Goodhue County, they’ll likely be sent to a billionaire with a Texas address.
We have requested a Public Utilities Commission investigative hearing into the C-BED eligibility of the Goodhue project. In addition, we encourage our House and Senate colleagues to join us in calling for an examination of C-BED statutes through a legislative hearing.
Our intentions are not to attack wind energy. We aim to ensure public trust in the renewable-energy industry. C-BED must bring value in an accountable and transparent way.
As renewable-energy projects evolve, they must be reevaluated to ensure that they still meet the requirements of a C-BED project.
We have a duty to protect our citizens from out-of-state corporations taking advantage of local resources. Doing so will ensure that the additional dollars paid by Minnesota ratepayers for C-BED energy will remain in our communities.
State and local officials must work together to guarantee that only projects that are truly community-based and community-supported move forward with a C-BED status.
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Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, are members of the Minnesota House. John Howe, R-Red Wing, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.