Despite numerous protests from rural residents of Faribault County, the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted in favor of two conditional use permits (CUP) for wind power company EDF Renewable Energy last Tuesday evening.
The recommendation to approve the two CUPs will now go to the County Board for final approval, at their Dec. 7 meeting.
The CUPs will allow EDF to construct two MET towers, one in Barber Township and one in Pilot Grove Township.
The two 267-foot tall meteorological towers will measure wind speeds in the two areas, where EDF is proposing to build wind farms. The towers will remain in place for four to seven years, EDF representatives said.
Before the commission voted on the two separateCUP requests, commission chairman Morris (JR) Hanson allowed time for citizens to speak for, or against the granting of the CUP.
In each case, one resident spoke in favor, while many of the 45 people filling the conference room at the Ag Center spoke against it.
Almost all of the comments dealt with the construction of the proposed wind farms in the two townships.
And, while Hanson cautioned that the CUP just had to do with the proposed MET towers, and was not a decision on wind towers, he allowed the comments, acknowledging that the MET towers were a first step towards possible future construction of wind farms.
Each person was given two minutes to talk. The two persons who spoke in favor were Ray Rauenhorst concerning the Oza Tanka area in Barber Township and Scott Smith about the Rose Lake area in Pilot Grove Township.
Rauenhorst owns the land that EDF is leasing for the MET tower. He explained that he has supported wind power development in the county for some time, and cited several reasons why, including it being a form of economic boost.
Rauenhorst said he had checked with landowners in various areas who have nearby wind towers and they all reported no issues with them.
Smith said he has seen no problems with having wind towers nearby his land near Guckeen, including with aerial spraying, and has no issue with having more of the towers located in the county.
The comments from those against the wind towers ranged from feeling the wind towers are ugly, to questioning what they have to do with agriculture. Others said the towers do not promote the general welfare of the residents around them and are destructive to the quality of life in rural Faribault County, as well that they negatively affect land values.
Several persons said they and their neighbors are against the construction of wind towers, and urged the commission to deny the applicant’s request for a CUP.
Anthony Zierke asked if the request for a CUP has to come from a landowner, or can it be from a lessee. In this case, EDF is leasing the land for the sites of the two MET towers.
“It is not clear,” county attorney Troy Timmerman, who was present, responded. “The ordinance simply says ‘an applicant.’ So it is valid for both, I believe. But I can do further research.”
Zierke also spoke about the safety of the MET tower, saying it is a safety issue for pilots, including the Mayo One helicopter.
Greg Zierke pointed out that wind companies can go bankrupt and questioned what happens to the wind farm then. He also had another point.
“Faribault County has prime agricultural land, so why ruin it?” he asked. “The Buffalo Ridge area (in southwest Minnesota where there are many wind towers) has marginal land, so it made sense for them. Wind is good energy, but I am against it here. And if corn and bean prices were higher we would not be here talking about wind towers in Faribault County.”
Paul Carr also spoke about the wind farms.
“I want to reiterate that 90 percent of the people in Pilot Grove do not want further wind tower construction,” Carr said. “We do not want to live in an industrial park and put up with sight and noise pollution.”
Carr added he agrees that people have a right to do what they want with their land, but not when it “negatively affects their neighbors.”
Andy Pierce also said he did not want to live in an industrial park and suggested the commission should just “simply deny the applicants.”
In all, more than a dozen people spoke against granting the two CUPs.
The commission, however, went through a check list of questions pertaining to the requests and unanimously voted in favor of the two CUPs saying they felt the applications met all the criteria.
Commission member and county commissioner Tom Loveall explained why they voted as they did, when one person said the commission was ‘not thinking right,’ about the MET tower or the wind tower issue, and should be representing the residents of Faribault County, not EDF.
“Whether I?care about wind power is not the point here,” Loveall said. “We are here to follow the law. And this (application) is allowed under the conditional use permit ordinance. There is nothing there (in the ordinance) to say they (EDF) should not get this conditional use permit.
“And saying we are not thinking right about it, well I resent that,” Loveall continued. “We have thought about it, long and hard, and I’ll stand with following the law and not violate my personal responsibility.”