Pipestone County is considering changing its zoning ordinance so it can grant permits for larger wind projects.
Currently, the county handles permitting only for projects less than 5 megawatts (MW), leaving anything larger for the state, but state statute allows counties to permit wind projects up to 25 MW.
The county board approved a resolution during its March 28 meeting indicating that it is preparing to adopt standards that exceed those of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and assuming responsibility for processing permit applications for wind projects less that 25 MW.
That action precedes a public hearing scheduled for April 3 when the Pipestone County Planning Commission will take comments on the proposed amendment to allow the permitting of larger projects.
“In talking with the Department of Commerce, they recommend that the county, if we’re planning to do this, that we would pass the resolution and submit that to them to start that process prior to us actually getting the ordinance modified,” said Kyle Krier, Pipestone County planning and zoning administrator, during the county board’s March 28 meeting.
If the planning commission doesn’t recommend changing the ordinance or the county board decides not to change the ordinance, Krier said his understanding is that the county board would then have to rescind the resolution because the ordinance would not meet the minimum requirements for setbacks and noise for projects less than 25 MW.
Ross Corson, director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which provides review and analysis of proposed wind projects for the PUC, told the Pipestone County Star that just five counties have decided to permit wind projects of less than 25 MW since they became legally able to do so in January of 2008. Those are Lyon, Murray, Lincoln, Jackson and Stearns counties.
Corson said he couldn’t speak as to why counties would or would not chose to take on permitting authority for larger projects, but that some might see the local control as a benefit, others as a burden. He said the permitting process for larger projects might also be more costly for counties than letting the state handle them.
The Pipestone County board was asked to make the change by Corey Juhl, director of development for ConEdison Development (CED), formerly of Juhl Energy. Juhl said while addressing the commissioners at their March 14 meeting that the permit process through the county would take “in some cases, half the time it would take to go through the state.”
He said he requested the change at this time because CED plans to deconstruct the 17 wind turbines at the Woodstock Hills wind farm south of Woodstock this summer and replace them with four modern wind turbines that will produce more energy due to larger rotor blades and generators. The company also plans to install a 1 MW solar array at the site, Juhl said.
CED announced in January that it had acquired “Juhl Energy Services, Inc., a development pipeline of wind projects and portfolio of operating projects from Juhl Energy.” The company chose not to provide more specifics on its holdings in Pipestone County or the plans for those sites.
“CED will not be offering comment on any ongoing projects in Pipestone County,” said Ross M. Wallenstein, vice president of public relations firm Marino, on behalf CED, in an email to the County Star.
The county board supported Juhl’s request to change the wind ordinance and referred the matter to the Pipestone County Planning Commission. The planning commission will hold the public hearing Monday, April 3 at 6 p.m. in the commissioners room at the Pipestone County Courthouse
Krier said the county board and planning commission previously considered permitting projects below 25 MW in 2007, but the board opted not to at that time.
“I think the consensus of the board at that time was that the state was in a better position to go through thfMieir procedures and handle the larger projects than the county,” Krier said.
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