Column: Goodhue County can make wind decisionsFor those of you affected by the wind turbine debate taking place in Goodhue County, I thought I’d provide an update on the issue.
By: Steve Drazkowski, Wabasha, The Republican Eagle
For those of you affected by the wind turbine debate taking place in Goodhue County, I thought I’d provide an update on the issue.
What you need to know is this: Goodhue County can —legally according to the Public Utilities Commission — zone wind turbine projects and provide setbacks without taking over the costly permitting and inspection process.
Some background: Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act and the Renewable Energy Act laws, both passed in 2007, state that renewable energy must make up at least 25 percent of Minnesota’s energy needs by the year 2025.
For wind energy developers, the floodgates have opened.
At a cost of $2 million per turbine, a wind development company that deploys wind turbines is financially exempt from local and county property taxes on the wind energy infrastructure, but they do pay a much smaller wind energy tax. The landowner receives $15,000 to $18,000 a year for having them on their land.
So when you analyze the pros and cons for the landowner and the county, and mix in the fact that the wind farm would be placed in a densely populated rural area like Goodhue County, you can see why neighbor is being pitted against neighbor.
This is a local control issue if ever there was one. To date, the Goodhue County Board has not taken action. County Board members have stated that while they could zone wind turbine setbacks, the PUC told the board that the county must also pay for inspections and permitting expenses, so the county has not acted.
Based on this information, Rep. Tim Kelly and I approached the PUC and asked for official clarification. The PUC staff recently told us their lawyers say the law is very clear - that a county can make local zoning control changes, and if it does, the PUC must consider and apply any county standards when considering wind development project applications, unless they find good cause not to do so.
In the meantime, Kelly and I authored legislation that would specifically put that interpretation in statute. It was heard in a House environment committee and was not approved. However another bill which somewhat mirrors our intent and provides local control, HF 3671, was approved by the committee.
This is good news.
So is the PUC analysis.
Kelly and I are now planning to focus our efforts on encouraging the PUC to develop a formal position statement on zoning control. It is critical that counties —particularly Goodhue and its commissioners — recognize the PUC’s position and understand that their hands are no longer tied.
The Goodhue County Board can — and should — approach and bring local leadership to this issue that has been dividing Goodhue County citizens for the past year.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, can be reached at (651) 296-2273 or rep.steve.