DODGE CENTER – Douglas Eayrs questions whether prime farmland is the right location for 70 planned wind turbines.
The director of Dodge County Concerned Citizens said he’s still pondering an opinion on NextEra’s plans to build a wind project that would stretch from Steele County to western Olmsted County, with most of the wind turbines and proposed transmission line set for Dodge County.
“I don’t really have a positive or negative opinion yet,” he said as he opened a two-hour presentation and discussion regarding the plan.
Carol Overland, a Red Wing-based attorney with more than two decades of experience dealing with energy concerns, presented her findings regarding the proposal and led the discussion. She said it’s the right time to raise concerns about the project.
A series of documents filed with the state’s Public Utilities Commission last month outline plans for the Dodge County Wind Project and seek approval of efforts to place towers and create a 23-mile transmission route.
A public-comment period for the three main documents closes Aug. 10.
“As it goes further down the road, you have less and less opportunity,” Overland told a group of 15 residents gathered at the Dodge Center American Legion on Saturday morning.
Eayrs said he’s been disappointed in the lack of public discussion on the project, which led his group to plan Saturday’s event as the comment period enters its final two weeks.
“We were waiting for the county to do something,” said the Maple Grove man who grew up in Dodge County and still owns land in the area.
While Dodge County commissioners didn’t attend the meeting, two local township officers were on hand to listen.
Jim Checkel from Ashland Township and Ken Folie from Canisteo Township said they’ve attended other public meetings on the plans. Chekel pointed to a recent meeting at Ashland Town Hall, which drew a crowd of approximately 60 residents, as well as representatives from NextEra.
“We try to get a balanced view of what’s going on,” he said of township officials.
Overland said that was good to hear, but she was critical of the lack of public notice beyond a posting at the town hall.
Sonja Trom Eayrs echoed the concern, noting members of Dodge County Concerned Citizens weren’t aware of the meeting, or any of the others. She said more people need to hear about what is planned.
“These people are in the dark and have no idea what’s coming at them,” she said.
As Overland outlined the plans included in the more than 1,000 pages filed with the Public Utilities Commission, she said the proposal calls for 62 2.5-megawatt turbines, which she said are among the largest she’s seen planned in the state. Another eight turbines would be smaller, at 1.7 megawatts.
A map also indicates plans for a substation near the western edge of Dodge County and two possible routes for transmission lines that Overland compared to the CapX2020 transmission project, part of which extends north of Rochester.
She said it’s unclear why the specifications are larger than appear to be needed locally.
“I need to dig down deeper into that,” she added.
While questions remain, she offered advice on responding to the proposal.
She suggested comments should focus on specific aspects of the project, rather than offer general criticism or support.
“You have to be really, really specific,” she said, noting unique comments are better than mass mailings or using preprinted postcards.
When Douglas Eayrs raised potential concerns about threats to migratory birds that pass through Dodge County each year, Overland suggested including news reports on the topic, as well as reaching out to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I highly recommend the shotgun approach,” she said.
With the comment period nearing an end, Overland said the Public Utilities Commission will decide the next steps after comments and any replies are received.
She said that based on what she has seen so far, it appears that the project will likely be considered as a contested case.
After the discussion, Douglas Eayrs said he plans to file some concerns but remains undecided on whether he supports or opposes the project.
If he eventually comes down against it, he said it won’t be in opposition to renewable energy. It’s the decision to build in Dodge County that he continues to question.
“It’s more of a policy issue,” he said, noting he plans to visit the NextEra office in Dodge Center and attend as many other meetings as possible.
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