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Players in Goodhue County wind debate await next court ruling

The name of the game is five-card draw, and only two players are still in it to win.

One party, AWA Goodhue Wind, sits with a nearly endless pile of chips filling its side of the table. The other, the Coalition for Sensible Siting, displays a solid poker face, showing confidence in the ability to take on any hand the project developer lays down.

The intense battle over wind energy in Goodhue County is becoming comparable to a well-known card game. After the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decided Goodhue County’s 10-rotor diameter zoning setback for wind turbines wasn’t necessary, concerned citizens rallied together to ask the PUC for a reconsideration.

Several other parties – Goodhue County, Belle Creek Township and citizen group Goodhue Wind Truth – joined the other two groups in the first round of play, but they all lost the hand as the PUC opted not to reconsider its original decision and instead went forward with issuing a site permit for a wind farm in the county.

The opposition’s next chance to make a change was in the second round, where each group had an opportunity to appeal. The county chose to bow out when it realized how much money was at stake.

“Every time you go around the table you have to ante or you’re out of the game,” Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher explained. “The same is true with the appellate process.”

The Goodhue County Board folded its cards in November upon hearing Betcher’s estimation that each level of the appeals process to preserve the ordinance would cost the county about $5,000, attorney fees not included.

“I think it’s going to cost a tremendous amount of money,” Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said in November before voting not to appeal.

Goodhue Wind Truth and Belle Creek Township intended to stay in the game and continue ponying up money to fight the PUC’s decision, but they slowly had to fold as well.

Although Belle Creek could afford to ante in another round, its board was looking further down the line and realized the funds just weren’t there, Betcher explained. Goodhue Wind Truth actually went ahead with filing but completed the process improperly and was rejected on a technicality.

Now, the Coalition for Sensible Siting is the only opponent sitting at the table with Goodhue Wind and it’s up to the Appellate Court to decide the fate of wind energy in Goodhue County.

At the appeals hearing Wednesday, three judges heard arguments from attorneys with the PUC, Goodhue Wind and the coalition.

“I felt like our side presented a stronger case and knew the information better,” member Kristi Rosenquist said.

“Basically we’re arguing that the Public Utilities Commission didn’t have good cause to override our local control, our local county ordinance,” Ann Buck, another member, explained.

The Appellate Court has 90 days to determine whether it agrees.

If Coalition for Sensible Siting isn’t satisfied with the court’s decision, it isn’t necessarily going to step down and let Goodhue Wind take the pot when it has contributed so much already.

“This has been a huge financial drain on us,” Buck said. “We hate to stop now. If it does go against us we’ve been told by a few lawyers that this is a great case to take to the Supreme Court.”

This is setting a precedent. If we lose this battle on our local ordinances, what’s going to be next?”