March 16, 2012

AWA Goodhue still plans June construction

By Brett Boese, The Post-Bulletin, 16 March 2012

ZUMBROTA – Despite a series of setbacks and challenges, developers of the AWA Goodhue wind project said this week that they still expect to begin construction in June.

The 32,000-acre, 48-turbine wind farm has been entangled in a three-year permitting process, and was dealt another setback in late February when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission required more research before approving the wind company’s state-mandated Avian and Bat Protection Plan.

Many thought that ruling would delay the process up to a full year – if not halt it entirely – but developers of the 78-megawatt project said construction plans remain on schedule.

Now, two area townships are considering motions that would make that impossible.

In April, citizens of Belle Creek Township will consider a one-year moratorium on developing a road agreement with AWA Goodhue. Project critic Steve Groth asked the township board to consider the language and it was approved for consideration on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, Minneola Township citizens agreed to similar language proposed by Zumbrota resident Ken Schueler, who works as an attorney in Rochester. If adopted by the town board, it would prevent a road agreement from being approved until AWA Goodhue’s Avian and Bat Protection Plan has been accepted by the Public Utilities Commission and its first-of-its-kind Incidental Take Permit to kill bald eagles has been issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The townships might also request an escrow account, set up by the wind company, to pay for any work done on road agreements while the project remains in limbo.

“We don’t want to waste taxpayer money on something that looks like it might not happen,” said Belle Creek Town Board chairman Chad Ryan.

According to Groth, National Wind officials said that its avian plan would be resubmitted to the PUC by May. National Wind has declined all requests for comment from the Post-Bulletin since September.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Mags Rheude says the eagle permit will take “at least” four to six months for her office to approve – longer if it creates significant public interest.

AWA Goodhue filed its draft permit application with the fish and wildlife service on Feb. 21. To determine the number of federally protected species the project would be allowed to kill, the service must establish the amount of bald eagle activity in the area.

National Wind said there were no eagle nests in the area, but critics say they have identified a number of nests. According to Rheude, the fish and wildlife service has verified “at least” four nests within two miles of the project and five more in a 10-mile radius.

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