SAINT PAUL – With an eye on the controversial New Era wind project in Goodhue County, area legislators have put wind energy reform near the top of their agenda for a second straight session.
Republican state Reps. Tim Kelly, of Red Wing, and Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, re-introduced two bills on Monday that seek to clarify statute language that has come under intense scrutiny from critics of the 78-megawatt project planned near Zumbrota. The same bills were introduced in 2012, but they were never heard due to other priorities.
One of the bills would require that any wind project in Minnesota designated as a community-based energy development (C-BED) meet the requirements throughout the project’s existence. Under existing law, a project that meets the guidelines initially is not typically subject to further review. Energy companies such as Xcel are required to purchase C-BED power at a significantly increased rate in order to promote such developments.
Some feel that New Era has manipulated that program and have called for a review of its C-BED status. The Goodhue County Board made that request of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in late 2012, and Kelly and Drazkowski co-authored a letter last week that makes the same request – for a third time.
First-term Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, has also joined that call. He submitted his own letter to the PUC last week and plans to champion the two wind bills in the Senate next month.
“The whole idea is we’re not trying to stop wind development,” Kelly said. “We’re saying … if we like the whole idea of community (wind) development, let’s make sure it qualifies. Let’s not let companies play this game … because then they’re just trying to manipulate the system.
Added Schmit: “It’s a well-intentioned program, but it’s not panning out as intended in Goodhue County.”
The other bill seeks to enhance local control in regard to wind energy; Kelly and Drazkowski have long been critical of a Minnesota statute that states the PUC “shall consider and apply those more stringent (local) standards unless the commission finds good cause to not apply the standards,” without defining what good cause means.
After a lengthy review process in 2010, the Goodhue County Board adopted a new wind ordinance that required a 10 rotor-diameter setback from occupied dwellings. However, the PUC overruled that language about a year later.
“Basically, we’re changing the ‘shall’ to ‘must,'” Kelly said. “That really is as simple as it gets.”
New Era has faced an unprecedented permitting process since first applying for a permit in 2008. It’s had three different owners, been given three different names and been represented by three different state senators. Democrat Steve Murphy was a vocal supporter of the project at the outset, while Republican John Howe and Schmit have since criticized it.
Peter Mastic is the current owner and developer, having purchased it from Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens in 2012. Mastic did not return calls seeking comment.
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