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Goodhue wind project foes drop legal fight

Opponents of a long-contested plan to build a 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County are giving up their legal fight.

The Coalition for Sensible Siting, a citizens group that challenged the Public Utilities Commission’s site permit approval for the project, announced this week that they will not attempt to appeal a state Court of Appeals decision that allowed the project to move forward.

The Court of Appeals in June ruled in favor of a PUC decision that exempted AWA Goodhue Wind from following a county ordinance that would require turbines to be located at least 2,700 feet from homes that had not agreed to participate in the project.

AWA Goodhue Wind’s $180 million plan calls for the construction of nearly 50 turbines across 32,000 acres in Belle Creek and Minneola, in southeastern Minnesota’s Goodhue County.

The Coalition for Sensible Siting could have tried to take their case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but Ann Buck, a group leader from Goodhue, said that lack of money made that impossible.

The group has spent more than $100,000 fighting the project over the last three years, she said, and needs to pay off its debt. Recent fundraising efforts weren’t enough, and Goodhue County officials also declined to contribute to the case. County officials anticipated an appeal would have cost up to $15,000.

“It’s been very humbling, and it’s really unbelievable that we were able to stay in the game as long as we have,” said Buck, whose dairy farm straddles the Goodhue-Belle Creek town line.

Group leaders also said they did not believe a protracted legal battle would have a “noticeable impact on this already floundering project.”

The proposal has faced challenges from the start, and it remains unclear how near the company may be to construction. Calls to National Wind, the company behind AWA Goodhue, were not returned on Friday; no one answered the door when a reporter visited their Minneapolis office.

The project still must overcome several hurdles before it can move forward. Residents who signed agreements allowing turbines to be built on their property now allege AWA Goodhue has not met contractual obligations, including payments for the right to use their land, and say the contracts should be voided.

An Avian and Bat Protection Plan, rejected by the PUC, also needs to be redone. And officials in Belle Creek and Minneola have yet to provide road permits the company needs to begin construction.

Despite the lingering issues, local officials say communication has been sparse, and that there has been little visible evidence to suggest the company is attempting to move forward.

Chad Ryan, the chairman of the Belle Creek board of supervisors, said the company recently installed equipment to collect new wind and bat information, but that the company hasn’t corresponded with the town in three or four months.

Ryan said he believes AWA Goodhue is waiting to see what happens with a tax credit seen as critical to the wind industry that will expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts to extend it.

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee voted to advance a one-year extension of the production tax credit, at a cost of $3.3 billion, which would continue to subsidize wind energy installations.

The measure still needs approval from the full Senate, and it remains unclear if the House will support the measure.

Buck said the Coalition for Sensible Siting, which now has around 40 active members, is hoping the AWA Goodhue case will be used as an example in the campaign against the tax credit. And she said the group will continue fighting the project, albeit outside the courtroom.

Meanwhile, opinions on the project remain split.

Goodhue County Commissioner Ted Seifert said community sentiment is shifting against the wind project.

But Dennis Gadient, an AWA Goodhue supporter, whose family owns 440 acres in Belle Creek on which turbines would be built, said there are hundreds of property owners still hopeful the project will move forward.

“I can tell you there’s plenty of support down here and we’re very anxious to get this thing up and going,” he said.