Renewable Energy Systems Americas has picked the shorter of two transmission line routes for the 200-megawatt Pleasant Valley Wind Farm, but that didn’t ease the concerns of all residents at Tuesday’s Mower County board meeting.
The board unanimously approved the environmental assessment on the project, the latest puzzle piece as the board goes through the permitting process for the transmission line and substation for the 100-turbine, 200 MW wind farm.
During the meeting, RES Development Manager Justin Markell announced the company has tentative agreements to use the shorter of two proposed transmission lines, which will run about five miles.
“We hope that does assuage a lot of concerns in that area,” he said.
But, that didn’t diminish all concerns. To Tina Shafer, the route isn’t the problem, it’s the potential adverse health effects of electromagnetism from the lines, which she admitted is an often controversial subject.
“Yes, you are affecting a lot of families by putting this route where they are asking to put it,” said Shafer, who’s spoken at several meetings about the project.
She and other residents continued to call for RES Americas to consider other options for the transmission lines. Shafer called for RES to take the lines through fields and away from homes or for the lines to be buried. Other residents have called to connect the new transmission lines to existing power lines.
However, Markell said the options are not viable, as burying the lines is too costly, while connecting with existing lines isn’t viable for engineering and ownership reasons.
Markell argued the project will be beneficial for the area, and noted they are not using eminent domain; all landowners are choosing to be a part of the project.
“RES Americas and its 200-some participating landowners do not look at this as forcing anything down anyones’ throats,” Markell said.
“The want in this case is a want of something good, not something bad,” he added.
Before making a motion to approve the environmental assessment, Commissioner Polly Glynn thanked residents like Shafer for voicing their concerns and RES for trying to address them. She noted that with a project like this, it’s hard to please everyone.
“There’s no perfect world here,” Glynn said.
The environmental assessment approved Tuesday compiles the public’s concerns about the environmental effects of the proposed transmission lines and substation, and then addresses them. The board and the county’s planning commission will use the assessment as a key source as it discusses the conditional use permits for the transmission line and substation, and the assessment will be vital in setting conditions and requirements for the permits.
Next up, the issue will go before the Mower County planning commission for a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 25. The planning commission reviews a set of criteria when considering any conditional use permit requests. The planning commission will then make a recommendation to the county board on either March 4 or 25.
The turbines for Pleasant Valley are already permitted by the state. RES Americas plans to begin building the wind farm next spring, and the wind farm could be completed by October 2015. RES Americas will build an operations and maintenance facility that will likely be located in Sargeant. Xcel Energy will buy the wind farm’s energy and maintain the turbines after they’re built.
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