As I write this on Earth Day, I’m preparing for the Public Utilities Commission’s meeting next week which may seal the fate of the proposed Goodhue Wind project.
This is a poignant example of our obligation to respect the earth and its residents. By whatever name, this wind project has failed abysmally on all counts.
Citizen groups, individuals and elected officials have worked on this project for almost five years, and they have learned not only about this particular project, but about wind generation impacts.
Participation is the foundation of our democracy, and the people showed up, building their credibility at every turn. Local government wrestled with divergent interests to responsibly address the issues at stake. At tremendous cost and effort, residents learned to navigate regulatory agencies, respectfully participate in many meetings, research and consult experts, network with others, meet with county, federal and state agencies and committees, join a contested case, hold informational meetings with films and speakers, write comments and press releases, and testify before decision-makers. It’s been an exhausting rollercoaster ride.
Why pull the plug? The project has fallen apart.
T. Boone Pickens took his financing and turbines, abandoning the project. Trishe Wind, purchaser of National Wind, rejected the project. NSP declared the Power Purchase Agreements in default and rejected all subsequent proposals.
Ventum Energy, the sole local interest, was administratively terminated last August. New owner New Era operates out of a P.O. Box and doesn’t pick up mail.
There’s nothing left.
This project fails as a matter of energy policy, because it would not replace a single megawatt of fossil generation or reduce CO2 levels. The Renewable Energy Standard is a mandate to add generation, but it’s not “either/or,” because there’s no replacement or shutdown of fossil generation.
We have an electricity surplus, and the RES adds to that surplus, which utilities sell on the market rather than cut fossil generation.
Xcel Energy doesn’t need Goodhue Wind because it’s met its RES quota far ahead of schedule. Further, Goodhue Wind is not locally owned, not locally financed, and is not community energy development by any definition.
Developers utilized unethical practices in securing land contracts and silencing those who signed them, pitting neighbors and family members against each other. Much is deemed “trade secret,” but landowners are backing out, and the project’s land control is in doubt.
The Public Utilities Commission has asked reasonable questions, and New Era has not answered.
Environmentally, the Goodhue Wind project would do much harm. Despite Minnesota’s unfortunate exemption of wind projects from environmental review, we learned that “renewable” doesn’t mean there are no harmful impacts.
This project is located along the largest migratory bird pathway in North America. Eagles nest in the project footprint and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the project would kill eight to 14 eagles annually, 160-240 dead eagles over a 20-year project life.
The developers haven’t completed avian and bat surveys, one monitor has been hanging broken for seven months, and they refuse to comply with USFWS modeling guidance. Contractors have exhibited gross arrogance in conducting surveys and in contacts with landowners, including alleged trespassing and initiating legal action against a lawful resident, enraging the judge who dismissed the case.
Were the project built, it would be without regard to the residents and livestock, with turbines closer than the county ordinance prescribes, and closer than recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health.
If built, the project would inflict low frequency noise on adjacent residents and subject them to shadow flicker for which ommerce suggests “shades” as mitigation. The only way to mitigate the impacts is to site with adequate setbacks, such as the one-half mile buffer which the health department notes should eliminate complaints.
Wind must be sited correctly, because turbines aren’t easily moved.
This is Earth Day. It’s not about “being right” but about “getting it right.”
Carol A. Overland of Red Wing is the attorney for Goodhue Wind Truth.
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