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Southeast Minnesota wind-power project to air eagle protection plan

An embattled wind energy project proposed for rural Goodhue County is getting another chance to show state regulators that it is taking adequate precautions to avoid killing nearby nesting bald eagles.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has scheduled a hearing Thursday, Feb. 28, to consider a protection and monitoring plan for birds and bats for the New Era Wind Farm, a 78-megawatt project formerly known as the Goodhue Wind Project.

Last year, project opponents convinced the PUC to bar Goodhue Wind from being built until it submits a plan to monitor and protect the eagles and bats from about 50 turbines that would be erected in and around Belle Creek and Zumbrota townships.

The opponents will argue Thursday that the submitted plan is incomplete and should be rejected because it does not do enough to protect the eagles, said Mary Hartman, a member of Coalition for Sensible Siting, one of two citizen organizations that oppose the project.

Without more measures to mitigate the danger, such as moving the turbines farther away from the eagles’ nests, the blades could kill up to 20 eagles a year, according to Hartman.

“The question for the commissioners is, are they comfortable setting a precedent to allow a wind development in a low-to-moderate wind resource area to take up to 20 eagles a year?” she said.

The owner and developer of the project, Peter Mastic, did not return phone calls and email messages Wednesday. A representative from New Era is
expected at the hearing, PUC officials said.

The commission also will consider whether the project can keep its status as a community-based project that deserves to be paid for its electricity at above-market rates.

A PUC staff report recommended the commission show why its community-based status should not be revoked.