ST. PAUL – The AWA Goodhue wind project will visit a new venue Wednesday when the Minnesota Court of Appeals hears oral arguments on the hot-button issue. At stake is the future of the $180-million, 32,000-acre development planned near Zumbrota.
The citizens opposition group called Coalition for Sensible Siting has filed an appeal challenging the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s decision to grant a site permit for the wind project, arguing that the PUC didn’t have “good cause” to override local control. Goodhue County adopted a new wind ordinance in October 2010 that requires a 10-rotor diameter turbine setback from nonparticipants, but the PUC approve the permit in June 2011 with a 6-rotor diameter setback – a difference of around 1,000 feet.
That decision was believed to end an unprecedented permitting process that took nearly three years – the wind company first applied to the PUC in October 2008. A typical wind project is approved within six to 12 months. But appeals from four local entities paused the project’s progress and sent the matter to court.
Goodhue County and Belle Creek Township have since dropped out over financial concerns, while Goodhue Wind Truth, another citizens opposition group, was forced to withdraw due to a mailing mistake. GWT was still allowed to submit an amicus brief during the appeals process.
Despite being the last one left to challenge the PUC’s ruling, the Coalition for Sensible Siting remains steadfast in its position.
“Our argument is fairly simple,” said Dan Scheck, the attorney representing CSS. “It’s the same thing we’ve been saying all along. It’s the same thing (Goodhue County Attorney) Steve Betcher has been saying. It’s the same thing Belle Creek Township has been saying. It’s the same thing Goodhue Wind Truth has been saying.
“The PUC got it wrong. They used the wrong standards. They created their own standards.”
Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Anna Jenks will defend the PUC’s decision, while AWA Goodhue is expected to have a couple of attorneys on hand.
The defense, detailed in a 92-page brief, focuses on the assertion that a 10-rotor diameter setback, which equates to roughly half a mile, would essentially eliminate the project and might halt wind development throughout the state, which would be in direct conflict with Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard, adopted in 2007.
Each legal counsel will have 20 minutes to present oral arguments at the hearing, scheduled for 11:15 a.m. at the Supreme Court building in St. Paul. Most prominent public hearings on this issue have drawn more than 100 people, but the appeals court room seats only about 30. No public testimony will be allowed.
The three-member panel of judges has 90 days to consider its ruling, so it’s considered highly unlikely that a decision will be announced at the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing.
The judges have three options:
• Grant the Coalition for Sensible Siting’s request and dismiss the PUC’s site permit.
• Deny the CSS’s request and uphold the PUC’s site permit.
• Essentially suspend the permit by sending the case back to the PUC for further findings.
A quick, favorable ruling is believed to be critical for AWA Goodhue, which must have the 48-turbine project operational by the end of this year to qualify for millions in federal funding through the expiring production tax credit. Wind officials have said that the project can’t secure financing until the appeals process is resolved, and construction will take at least six months.
AWA Goodhue requested an expedited appeals process in February, which was denied.
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