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.