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Minn PUC splits difference on Goodhue Wind Farm–no half mile setbacks, but negotiate with close neighbors

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The Minnesota PUC has approved a controversial wind farm in Goodhue County, where a county ordinance setting a nearly half-mile setback was facing off against a 1500-foot setback that was originally planned for the project.  The PUC slightly increased the setback limit from 1500 feet to 6 rotor diameters, or 1630 feet.  But while giving approval for the closer siting, the PUC also is requiring developers to engage in “good faith” efforts to negotiate agreements with neighbors closer than the county limit, which is 10 rotor diameters, or just under a half mile.  It’s unclear how such negotiations might proceed, or whether the PUC or courts would respond if negotiations fail.   Over 200 landowners have signed lease agreements to host turbines, while a contingent of locals has pushed for greater protections for neighbors.

UPDATE, 9/14/11: Goodhue County will file request for PUC to reconsider their permit.
UPDATE, 12/4/11: Goodhue County decides not to appeal the PUC decision.
UPDATE 2, 9/15/11: Sixteen motions were filed with the PUC to reconsider the permit, with some of the filers using fightin’ words; a court challenge is also mentioned as a possibility.

The PUC’s decision is a stumbling lurch toward the sort of approach that makes sense to AEI, which would establish larger setbacks such as the county standard, while encouraging negotiated agreements with neighbors who live closer.

For more on the Minnesota decision, see these three articles from RenewableEnergie.com and this one from North American Windpower. This Reuters piece last week set the stage nicely as well.

UPDATE, August 1: 200 residents who live within a half mile of the proposed project and are not already in line to receive lease payments as hosts of turbines have been offered $10,750 each by the developers of the 50-turbine wind farm.  This is in response to the PUC order that they make a good faith effort to obtain agreements from these neighbors.  The offers total about $2 million, a small increase in the previous $180 million project budget.  It’s interesting to me that there are that many landowners within a half mile; another 200 have are already part of the project as lessees. Past experience suggests that in areas like this, with so many people being affected, there is apt to be a higher likelihood of negative reactions, as compared to wind farms in locations where residences are sparse, and mostly working farms or ranches.

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