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PUC approves Stearns County wind farms

ST. PAUL – Two proposed wind farms in western Stearns County can go forward after clearing a state regulatory agency.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission today approved a certificate of need and site permits for the Black Oak and Getty wind farms just southwest of Sauk Centre.

Black Oak Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Edina-based Geronimo Wind Energy, wants to build a 42-megawatt Black Oak Wind Farm adjacent to the 40-megawatt Getty Wind, a community-based wind project.

The two companies are working together on financing and applied jointly for a certificate of need, which is needed for any project larger than 50 megawatts. The two projects would cover about 22 square miles and would have between 27 and 52 turbines, each about 400 feet tall.

The PUC vote was the final state approval the two companies needed, said Betsy Engelking, vice president of Geronimo.

“This was sort of one of the last major hurdles before being able to go ahead and build the wind farm,” she said.

The companies have signed agreements with landowners for all of the property needed for the wind farms, and the projects have significant community support, Engelking said.

Some residents have voiced concerns about shadow flicker, noise and potential bird deaths from the turbines. An environmental report completed last May did not identify any unique or significant environmental impacts from the projects.

The site permits include several conditions to reduce human and environmental impacts. The companies developed a plan to protect bats and birds, which includes avoiding placing turbines in flyways and monitoring the turbines after they are erected. Engelking said Geronimo was involved in the permit process and supports the conditions.

“We do want to make sure they are compatible with the land and the neighbors and the neighborhood,” she said.

When construction will begin is still in doubt. The companies have been negotiating for a contract to purchase power generated by the wind farms. The industry has been suffering from the uncertainty over whether a wind production tax credit that expires Dec. 31 will be renewed.

If the tax credit is extended, construction on the Getty and Black Oak wind farms should begin next year, Engelking said.