County gets clarification on wind projectsA 52-turbine wind farm proposed near Goodhue may have picked up the financial backing of Texas oil and gas executive T. Boone Pickens, but Goodhue County commissioners are still trying to decide what role they will play in wind energy.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
A 52-turbine wind farm proposed near Goodhue may have picked up the financial backing of Texas oil and gas executive T. Boone Pickens, but Goodhue County commissioners are still trying to decide what role they will play in wind energy.
Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said Tuesday the county has received clarification from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that local officials can impose standards stricter than state requirements on wind farms between 5 and 25 megawatts without assuming regulatory and permitting authority for those projects.
"Up until this time we've really been operating in limbo," Rechtzigel said. "We had not been getting clear communication from the state."
Commissioners had hesitated to flex their muscles over medium-sized wind projects, fearing they would be saddled with expensive, complicated and labor-intensive regulatory and permitting duties.
Rechtzigel said the recent letter from the PUC helps clarify the issue.
The PUC is still responsible for permitting projects as large as AWA Goodhue's. That company wants to build turbines spanning 32,000 acres in five Goodhue County townships. The permit is still being considered by the PUC.
If the county does choose to become more involved in medium-size projects, the PUC would be obligated to consider the county's more stringent standards — such as setbacks, — when considering permits for large projects.
Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission members will hold a workshop at 5 p.m. April 19 before their regularly scheduled 7 p.m. meeting to discuss the PUC's letter and how it will affect their decision later that night.
The board is scheduled to decide on a request from Goodhue County landowner Steve Groth, who is asking the board to clarify the level of detail required in wind energy applications. He also wants the planning commission to increase setbacks between turbines and non-participating dwellings from the state-mandated 750 feet to 3,168 feet — more than a half mile.
The Goodhue area wind project has gained national attention since Pickens' name became associated with it.
Representatives from Goodhue Wind told the Republican Eagle T. Boone Pickens companies was indeed providing financial support to the project, but he is not intimately involved.
"We believe that Goodhue is a good investment for Minnesota and America and fits Mr. Pickens' plan for U.S. energy independence and jobs," said Mark Ward of American Wind Alliance, a company formed last year by Pickens' Mesa Power Group with the support of General Electric.
Pickens told a Dallas newspaper in January he will purchase 300 turbines for wind farms in California and Minnesota. Pickens had initially planned to purchase almost 700 machines to build the world's largest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle, but that project was scrapped because the area still lacks necessary transmission lines.