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Wind debate to ratchet up Monday

ZUMBROTA -- Goodhue County's escalating debate over wind energy promises to ratchet up one more notch Monday when county officials will consider a request to impose new regulations on wind farms.

The Goodhue County Advisory Planning Commission will review a petition, signed by some 200 residents, asking county officials to place a yearlong moratorium on wind projects.

It also requests officials impose a .6-mile setback requirement between wind turbines and dwellings, which if applied would greatly alter or kill projects being proposed in the county.

Leading up to Monday's meeting, two events from earlier this week helped set the stage.

A developer planning a 32,000-acre, 52-turbine wind development in Goodhue County cleared a regulatory hurdle Thursday when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved its draft permit.

The permit allows Goodhue Wind to begin sighting work and planning where it will place turbines if its project is ultimately approved. The Minneapolis-based National Wind manages Goodhue Wind, also known as AWA Goodhue. The developer has garnered 215 county residents to participate in its project.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a group opposing wind farms hosted an informational meeting at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School, drawing more than 150 people.

Goodhue Wind Truth brought in a trio of speakers, two of whom spoke of their own negative experiences with wind farms.

Attorney Daniel Schleck, an environmental lawyer representing the group, was the third speaker and talked about wind development contracts among other topics.

He described the contracts as being laden with booby-traps that could strip landowners of their rights and saddle them with unforeseen costs.

"These agreements give (wind developers) carte blanche to do what they want," Schleck said.

Chuck Burdick, senior wind developer with National Wind, dismissed the characterization, saying Schleck cherry-picked sections of contracts that benefited developers but ignored provisions that protected or benefited landowners. He said the meeting was "incredibly one-sided."

The back and forth is not new.

In recent months, developers and their critics have argued over nearly every aspect of wind development, including whether potential health risks exist, possible affects on real estate values, claims wind farms would provide an economic boost to the county and what affects turbines would have on the county's scenery.

If county officials go on to impose new regulations stiffer than those required by state law -- namely .6-mile setbacks, which would be significantly stricter than the state's 500-foot requirement -- it's unclear if they'll hold up.

That's because if the county were to impose stiffer regulations, the PUC would have to consider those standards when permitting projects, but could overturn them if it found sufficient reason.