Belle Creek township to appeal wind farm decision

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Wind turbines dot a central Iowa field on May 23, 2011. (MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)

Earlier this week, the Belle Creek township board in southeastern Minnesota voted to appeal a decision by the Public Utilities Commission that allows a developer to proceed with a $179 million wind project near Red Wing.

“People have not listened to us. Everybody’s ignored us,” Belle Creek Board Chair Chad Ryan said. “They’re just plain ignoring what the people want.”

Ryan said Belle Creek’s decision comes after Goodhue County officials decided against filing an appeal of their own against the PUC.

The project, by developer AWA Goodhue Wind, could include 50 turbines spread across 32,000 acres of farmland in Goodhue County. The township wants a county ordinance with stricter setback requirements for turbines to govern the project, according to Ryan.

“Since the county won’t fight it, we felt that we will,” Ryan said. “Generally speaking, I would say that 80 percent of the citizens of Belle Creek wanted us to appeal, so that’s probably one of the main reasons why we decided to appeal.”

The turbine project has generated strong opposition from some residents, who question the effect the turbines will have on local wildlife and eagle populations.

Ryan estimates the appeal will cost the small township of 400 residents as much as $40,000. He said the town board has not decided whether it will also ask an appellate judge for a stay on the project, which could force the developer to wait to break ground on the project until the legal matter is resolved.

The long-standing controversy over the wind farm boils down to whether the state or the county regulate a project that includes 50 turbines spread across 32,000 acres of farmland in Goodhue County. Opponents of the controversial wind farm believe the county’s ordinance with stricter setback requirements for the turbines should govern the project.

Under state law, counties are allowed to create their own laws on these issues, but the Public Utilities Commission has the right to override those laws for just cause. That’s what the commission did earlier this year when it approved the 78-megawatt wind farm.

But earlier this month, Goodhue County commissioners voted against appealing that decision, saying it’s the state’s job, not the county’s, to regulate large wind projects in Minnesota.

  • Shelley

    As a resident of Belle Creek Township in Goodhue County I Thank My Township Board for their courage to Appeal the decision of the MN Public Utilities Commission With the AWA Goodhue Wind issue they have always made the effort to inform the public and ask for comment before making any decision. They have served the citizens that elected them well.This issue has far reaching effect as wind development across the US is looking at what happens here. Belle Creek has been abandoned by the county that refuses to standup for it’s own ordinance. In truth the county has never acted in our interest until forced by hundreds coming to many public meetings that went on into the night. The fact that Belle Creek’s own county commissioner never supported them until election time was very telling. County commissioners acted to write letters on behalf of wind developers rather than the public they represented.

    This kind of railroading that divides citizens must not be allowed into our county again. This is a well documented tactic of wind developers everyplace they have entered. We need strong leaders that will serve the citizens of Goodhue County. Today I can only count 2 at the county level. Thank You Commissioners Allen & Siefert.

    At the state level, Representatives Kelly & Drazkowski have stood with us as well as Senator John Howe. Last session they introduced legislation that was not moved forward due to in my opinion the several hundred thousand dollars of lobby money spent by AWA Goodhue. I look forward to a complete investigation into the C-BED status of a 100% T.Boone Pickens owned project that is being called Community Based. It has almost destroyed our community and is stealing taypayer dollars from all of us in the process. A responsible government will investigate. Legislation is needed and our representation at the state agrees. Thank You, representatives Kelly & Drazkowski and Senator Howe. If our county had moved forward to appeal it would have made this look at the problem by the state more likely to happen in a timely fashion. The county is part of the problem rather than the solution. A Resident of Goodhue County. ShelleyNygaard

    It is time for a real investigation into the wind industry. We have the Solyndra of the North right here in Minnesota. Districts recieving some of those lobby dollars need to do the right thing. Instead of taking the gravy, start the C-Bed investigation.AWA Goodhue has given the whole wind industry a Black Eye!

  • Mary

    There are any number of other “renewable” forms of energy that would not destroy critical eagle nesting and over-wintering grounds so why the MPUC issued a Certificate of Need for a project they admitted is NOT NEEDED is mind-boggling. (June 30 hearing) Golden Eagles, American Bald Eagles, Loggerhead Shrike, Trout Lilies, Louisiana Waterthrush, Long-Eared bats…….the list of threatened or endangered animals utilizing this area is lengthy. Ellen Anderson just explained to Finance & Commerce that she is well-versed on energy issues. Really? How can you be well-versed on energy issues and make a decision as bad as this one?! The Mississippi River Flyway is not an appropriate place for giant cuisinart’s.

  • Kristi

    Belle Creek Township has shown remarkable leadership. The AWA Goodhue project was awarded the most expensive electrical rate (PPA) of ANY wind project in MN. This is partly due to being granted “Community Based Energy Development” (CBED) status. This is supposed to mean that the project is organized and run by Minnesotans. This project is 100% owned by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens.

    Company representatives lied to local citizens to convince them to sign contracts – and still the vast majority turned them down. Of those who did sign contracts, several have retained legal counsel and want out.

    T. Boone lobbied then Gov T. Paw directly last fall. T. Boone’s right hand man Mark Ward lobbied Goodhue County Commissioners. The attorneys who worked as State employees and wrote MN’s wind energy mandate now represent Pickens in this project. I think the lobbying bill on this project is around the $1/2 million mark at this point.

    AWA Goodhue is the poster child for corruption and fraud. The wind industry exists due to horrible decision making by State and federal legislators – letting special interests write their energy legislation based on rainbows, kites, bubbles and unicorns. Wind does not and cannot deliver on it’s environmental or economic promises. “Wind Energy” sounds lovely until reality intervenes.

    Shame on the three Goodhue County Commissioners who have chosen to represent T. Boone Pickens rather than the citizens and the County.

  • Kristi

    The MPUC has failed to fulfill legislative intent, failed to follow their own consistent pattern and failed to follow their mission statement.

    “…counties are allowed to create their own laws on these issues, but the Public Utilities Commission has the right to override those laws for just cause.”

    What the state law actually says is that the MPUC “must consider and apply more stringent County standards unless there is good cause not to.”

    MPUC Chair Ellen Anderson’s statement of June 30, “I don’t like it” is NOT “good cause” and, hopefully, the court of appeals has more sense than she does.

    Legislators testified that legislative intent was that the MPUC should apply the Goodhue County standards. The MPUC’s own public record shows the MPUC has applied more stringent County standards in at least seven other MN Counties. MPUC never questioned those Counties’ ordinances. Why question Goodhue’s?

    The MPUC mission statement is to ensure reliable, cost efficient electricity. Since wind is unreliable and horribly expensive, the MPUC can’t both fulfill the State’s misguided mandate AND fulfill the mission statement.