SAINT PAUL – The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected arguments from critics of the AWA Goodhue wind project Monday morning to affirm a fall 2011 Minnesota Public Utilities Commission decision to issue a site permit for the hotly contested wind power development.
That decision, which was delivered in an eight-page memo weeks earlier than initially expected, could help pave the way for construction to begin on the project that has faced an unprecedented permitting process that dates back to 2009; a typical wind project is permitted in 6-12 months.
National Wind, which is developing the 78-megawatt, 32,000-acre project located between Zumbrota and Goodhue, did not return calls Monday, but officials have previously said that securing financing on the $180 million project was impossible while its future remained legally uncertain. Though other hurdles remain – such as receiving the country’s first incidental take permit for bald eagles and one of the state’s initial avian and bat protection plans – the project is expected to take about six months to complete; it must be operational by Dec. 31 to be eligible for millions of federal funding through the expiring production tax credit.
Peter Mastic, National Wind’s CEO, has reportedly told local township officials he plans to begin construction in July, though many remain skeptical of that time frame. However, the appellate court’s expedited process could help make that possible after it ruled that the PUC had “good cause” to disregard Goodhue County ordinance calling for a 10-rotor-diameter setback; the PUC approved a 6-RD setback last fall, which is a difference of about 1,000 feet.
“The 10-RD setback – based on a zero-exposure standard – is unnecessary,” said Monday’s ruling, which was issued two months after the brief hearing. “And on the other hand, imposition of the county’s 10-RD setback threatens AWA’s private interest in wind development and the state’s public interest in promoting wind development as a sustainable source of energy.”
In 2007, Minnesota adopted its current Renewable Energy Mandate that calls for 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. While the state is currently fourth in wind energy, the appellate judges were still critical of the intent of the county’s new ordinance, claiming it could interfere with that agenda.
The court documents say the 10-RD setback “would essentially prevent all wind energy projects in Goodhue County,” which it calls “an ideal location for wind development.”
The Coalition for Sensible Siting, a citizen opposition group, filed the appeal, along with three other groups, challenging the PUC’s decision to disregard the county ordinance. However, Goodhue County and Belle Creek Township both pulled out over financial concerns and Goodhue Wind Truth was dismissed after a mailing mistake.
Dan Schleck, CSS’s attorney, did not return calls Monday, but CSS member Steve Groth says this ruling likely isn’t the end of the already-protracted legal battle. CSS plans to meet Thursday to discuss options; it has 60 days to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“Do we lick our wounds and go home?” Groth said, adding that his group has already spent six figures fighting the AWA Goodhue wind project. “Well, I don’t have a white flag in my pocket. My heels are dug in deeper than ever.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding