PUC to hold final public hearing on wind project
After months of heated debate in numerous public forums, it all comes down to this.
In what will likely be a last chance for the public to vent its concerns to the state over the 78 MW, 12,000 acre Goodhue Wind project, a state judge will be in Goodhue July 21 to listen to the final arguments of the project's proponents and detractors.
Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman will hold a hearing in the Goodhue High School gym June 21 from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10:30 p.m. The hearing, held on behalf of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, will address whether the project is in the public interest along with issues with the draft site permit issued by the state agency in early May.
"It's the time for people to speak before the judge and ask questions of the applicant," said Deborah Pile of the Office of Energy Security, which assists the PUC with the permitting of large energy facilities.
The hearing will be the last time people will be able to speak directly to the PUC before the public comment period on the wind project ends Aug. 6. At that point, the judge will weigh the comments made in public and in writing, and submit his findings to the PUC.
The PUC will review those as it decides whether to approve the large wind development project. The agency's final verdict will likely come in October, according to Pile.
Representatives from National Wind -- the Minneapolis-based company that manages Goodhue Wind -- will be at the hearing to answer questions.
Chuck Burdick, a wind developer with National Wind, said experts will be on hand to discuss issues such as shadow flicker, noise and stray voltage.
"It will be a good chance for us to tell our side of the story and provide a lot of the background information on the project," he said.
National Wind plans to unveil a detailed site plan for the project in the days leading up the hearing. The plan, according to Burdick, will include turbine layouts, maps of the project and environmental reports -- a level of detail that has not yet been made available.
"It's the best information we have today," he said.
A group of landowners opposing the wind development project, dubbed Goodhue Wind Truth, will be at the hearing to give a final rundown of arguments against the project.
Steve Groth, a prominent member of the group, said that "everything discussed throughout the last year" will be on the table.
Area landowners have cited numerous concerns with the project over the past few months, including the impact of turbine noise on sleep, health effects of flicker from rotating turbines and possible negative effects on property values.
Proponents of the project have said those claims are exaggerated and that the project would be built with setbacks to mitigate any potential issues.
Though he said area residents would likely turn out in large numbers for the meeting, Groth said he doesn't take much stock in its importance. He said pressure from the state level for renewable energy projects will cause the PUC to rule in favor of the wind developers.
"It's just a formality. I think the plan is already set," he said.
Pile, however, said that comment periods and the attached public hearings do have an impact on the PUC's ultimate decision.
Goodhue County Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said he and fellow commissioners will also be on hand to reiterate points made in a June 15 letter to the PUC. That letter laid out the county's concerns about turbine setbacks, decommissioning of turbines, the protection of livestock from stray voltage and the possible health impacts of shadow flicker and noise.
The letter also asked for an extension of the public comment period on the project until October, which was not granted.
Rechtzigel said that in his comments to the administrative judge he will lay out the county's progress on updating its current wind development ordinance. While he said the ordinance won't be complete in time for the comment period end date in early August, he will stress the importance that the PUC consider the ordinance before deciding on the project.
"We're putting in a solid effort to get our work done and would hope that when we're finished that they consider what we do," he said.
The public can submit written comments on the Goodhue Wind project until Aug. 6. Comments can be mailed Judge Eric Lipman, Office of Administrative Hearings, P.O. Box 64620, St. Paul, MN 55164-0620; faxed to 651-361-7936; or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.