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Court approves smaller Goodhue wind setbacks; hurdles remain

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals has issued an expedited ruling that affirms a 2011 Minnesota PUC decision to issue a permit for the Goodhue wind farm using smaller setbacks than the county requires.  While the county requires a 10-rotor diameter setback from non-participating neighbors (about 2700 feet, or just over a half mile), the PUC let the project move ahead with setbacks of about 1600 feet.  The Court ruled that the PUC can supersede county rules when it has “good cause.”  The court documents say the 10-RD setback “would essentially prevent all wind energy projects in Goodhue County,” which was apparently the core good cause for overruling the county ordinance.  (Ed. note: I’m not sure whether the county standard allowed for easements to build closer to willing neighbors; such easements offer a way to allow projects to proceed while minimizing noise impacts on neighbors who especially value rural quiet.)

Strangely, the Court said that it had seen the 10 rotor diameter rule as a “zero-exposure standard;” in fact, a half mile would not avoid audibility or ocassionaly intrusive noise , especially at night, though it would reduce the number of homes experiencing relatively louder sound exposures.  There are roughly 200 homes within the 1600 to 2700 foot zone.  Many of the more substantial negative impacts reported by wind farm neighbors occur in this range.

While National Wind, developer of the 78-megawatt project, aims to begin construction within weeks, in hopes of being operational by the end of the year in order to qualify for expiring production tax credits, hurdles remain.  The PUC rejected the company’s eagle monitoring and protections plan in February, and the developers have been planning to obtain an optional take permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect themselves in the event of that a bald eagle may be killed.  A bird and bat protection plan is also still pending, and National Wind had earlier said that legal uncertainties had affected their ability to attract investors.  In addition, the Coalition for Sensible Siting, which lodged the appeal ruled on here, may well choose to continue their challenge to the State Supreme Court; they have 60 days in which to lodge that final appeal.

Update, 8/6/12: CSS has decided not to appeal. This article also suggests that due to outstanding wildlife permits, as well as legal action by some land owners who are trying to void their leases, project developers have stopped pushing to build this year, and are awaiting resolution of these issues, as well as the possibility of a one-year extension to the production tax credits.

Local coverage of the latest developments:
Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester Post Bulletin
Pioneer Press

Earlier AEI coverage of PUC deliberations and initial appeals is here

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