ZUMBROTA – More than 100 people filled the Zumbrota VFW on Thursday night to continue the debate about the controversial wind project that has divided the rural community in Goodhue County.
Virtually the entire crowd at the two hours-plus public meeting opposed the 78-megawatt AWA Goodhue project, and the speakers – who provided updates at the federal, state and local level – included several prominent elected officials.
A member of U.S. Rep. John Kline’s staff spoke about his ongoing work to let the production tax credit expire at the end of this year, which could cost the local project tens of millions of dollars. State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and state Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, spoke about their ongoing efforts on wind energy reform in the Legislature, almost all of which would hurt the local project.
Goodhue County Board member Ted Seifert even went so far as to say he’d support repealing the project’s status as Community-Based Energy Development, a hotly debated designation that allows the 32,000-acre project, owned by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, to sell the electricity it produces at a higher rate to increase profits.
Though none were in attendance Thursday, the project does have powerful supporters: U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar are strong advocates of renewable energy, along with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who said recently he’s pushing to extend the production tax credit.
The differing opinions among policy makers are representative of the public, and involvement in the project has caused rifts among some families.
The $180 million AWA Goodhue project has faced unprecedented scrutiny since its permitting process began in 2009. National Wind, the developer, didn’t have a representative at Thursday’s meeting and hasn’t issued a public statement to the Post-Bulletin since fall 2011.
It might have won a key ruling Monday when the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ruling to issue a site permit – overruling the county ordinance to reduce setbacks by about 1,000 feet – but critics remain skeptical of the legal decision.
Minneapolis attorney Dan Schleck, who represents a local opposition group called Coalition for Sensible Siting, explained why he believes the case could be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Locals have already spent six figures fighting the project, but it appears the battle will continue at the next stage. Steve Groth and Ann Buck say the group is assessing its financial standing but will likely act before the 60-day window closes.
Howe believes that’s the right course of action – in a point echoed later by the man running against him this fall, Matt Schmit, of Red Wing.
“I’m a big advocate of local control,” he said. “The people at the local level understand what the local constituents want. It appears that the higher up in politics you go, the less common sense there is.”
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