Attorney provides legal advice on wind farm optionsConcerned residents have relentlessly questioned how far wind turbines should be set back from other structures in rural Goodhue County.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
Concerned residents have relentlessly questioned how far wind turbines should be set back from other structures in rural Goodhue County.
Commissioners learned Tuesday that addressing those concerns locally regarding two proposed wind farms could be difficult.
To influence the state to impose stricter setbacks on wind farms over 25 megawatts - projects proposed in rural Goodhue are 78 and 50 megawatts - the county would need to take on permitting and regulatory responsibility for more medium-scale projects.
That's according to a legal interpretation from County Attorney Stephen Betcher of new legislation.
"You would be responsible for the boots on the ground aspects of the process," Betcher said.
The county already regulates construction of wind energy conversion systems up to 5 megawatts. Larger projects are passed on to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Betcher said state law now allows counties to step in and regulate wind farms between 5 and 25 megawatts as well with PUC's help. In doing so, commissioners could impose stricter standards - including for setbacks - than the state currently does on mid-range and larger projects.
Those stricter standards must then be considered by the PUC when issuing permits for large wind farms like those proposed by Goodhue Wind and Geronimo Wind.
No other Minnesota counties have taken advantage of the new legislation that appears to grant counties more power.
"That process at this time is untested," Betcher said. "This is a very important issue to be discussed and the board is taking it very seriously."
More than 40 residents packed the County Board room Tuesday morning for the informational meeting.
Several landowners have started a Web site with wind energy information, news and studies. The group has also held several community meetings advocating what they consider responsible development of wind energy.
"I feel Goodhue County is some of the richest and most productive land in the world," said Steve Growth, a rural Goodhue County landowner and a member of the concerned citizens group, told commissioners.
Dan Schleck, a Twin Cities environmental lawyer representing the group, disagreed with Betcher's legal interpretation.
He said the law allows counties to impose stricter rules on large wind farms without permitting and regulating smaller projects.
"You folks have a lot more power than you think you do," Schleck said.
Betcher said his legal advice was based on the PUC's interpretation of the law.
Schleck suggested the county impose a moratorium on wind farms so commissioners and staff have more time to research the issue and others, like how wind farms affect property values and tax revenues.
"I think you have a very tough decision here," Schleck said.