The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will review the Sibley Wind Project on Thursday, April 9 in its third floor hearing room at 7th Place East, downtown St. Paul.
The commission will review public comments already received and take public comments on various wind energy-related concerns and claims of permit violations regarding a 20 megawatt (MW) facility in Cornish Township, about 2 miles southwest of Winthrop.
Mark Santelman of Winthrop said Monday that he plans to speak at the Commission meeting. “In summary, a determined band of citizens are trying to stop anti-health, anti-environment wind turbines from going up near where they and I live,” Santelman stated in an email.
Wind project construction began in October 2013.
Beginning in May 2013, comments were filed by members of the public including claims of permit violations such as turbine setbacks, noise and underground substation stray voltage. Others expressed concerns about distribution line interference with telecommunications systems; county road agreement concerns;and project proximity to underground pipeline systems and site permit transfer.
Other comments addressed avian (bird), bat and bee impacts; lack of construction progress; failure to comply with local or other governmental authorization or requirements, unauthorized project changes; and questions regarding the project’s community-based energy status (C-BED), according to PUC documents.
As the allegations and citizens’ complaints continued in November 2014, commission staff issued a notice of comment period that drew 36 responses by the close of the comment period on Dec. 3, 2014. Most of the comments were brief letters in support of the project, according to the PUC.
On Dec. 3, 2014, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen R-Glencoe, and others filed comments alleging numerous violations of statute, rules and terms of the project site permit.
On Dec. 1, 2014, Barbara Wenninger filed comments indicating the presence of eagle nests within 10 miles of the project.
On Dec. 2, 2014, Mary Hartman filed comments related to the lack of data on potential wildlife impacts, particularly related to avian and bat impacts, for the project. She recommended the project permit be amended to require development of a bird and bat conservation survey and acoustical bat monitoring protocols.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) Energy Environmental Review and Analysis (EERA) noted that the Dec. 3, 2014 comments from Gruenhagen et. al. was the only filing to allege specific violations.
In its filing, EERA staff wrote that it does not believe the record supports allegations that Sibley Wind materially violated permit terms with respect to permit transfer, project changes without Commission approval; failure to obtain, maintain or comply with necessary local, state and federal permits; failure to comply with Cornish Township environmental review rules; or failure to meet statutory permit update and environmental submittal requirements.
The EERA staff wrote that it believes much of the confusion over what is required for the project to comply with a site permit stems from the relative age of the permit.
Except for a 2011 amendment, the permit was issued as an adjunct to be used in combination with the 2008 permit, which was not updated since then.
In order to better align permit requirements with more recently issued permits, EERA staff suggests the Commission consider directing Sibley Wind to:
Inform the Commission of any project ownership changes going forward;
Develop an Avian and Bat Projection Plan (ABPP) to document work done to date and identify procedures to mitigate potential impacts to avian and bat species during project construction and operation.
Provide the Commission with an update of the status of project permits with Sibley County; and
Provide regular construction status reports, perhaps on a monthly basis.
Sibley Wind provided comment that indicated project work to date included excavation for the substation, operation and maintenance facility, roads to about 40 percent of wind turbine sites and beginning of the electrical grid update for facility interconnection.
Sibley Wind indicated work done was permanent, not temporary in nature as alleged, and that adverse weather slowed progress during the winter of 2013 and spring 2014.
In addition, Sibley Wind noted it conducted an additional and voluntary study of potential avian risks in the spring and fall of 2014, which affected project schedule and funding.
Sibley Wind stated the project would be commercially operational by the end of 2015, in order to meet the expiration of the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).
Commission staff reviewed the record and filings to date and agreed with the DOC EERA that no material violations of statute, rule or permit condition have been identified or established. In addition, staff believes that the additional requirements outlined by the DOC EERA would be a reasonable approach to resolving issues before the Commission.
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