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Goodhue County Board denies new regs. on wind energy

Goodhue County resident Marie McNamara holds a pamphlet at the Goodhue County Board meeting Tuesday as she speaks out on wind energy developments. Goodhue County Board on Tuesday nixed a proposed moratorium on wind developments. -- R-E photo by Ruth Nerhaugen

RED WING - Goodhue County Board denied a request Tuesday from two residents seeking new, tougher regulations on wind energy developments and a one-year moratorium.

While county officials didn't embrace the proposal, they said it raised concerns about wind farms and the county's existing regulations.

To that end, the board authorized planning officials to begin developing new regulations for wind farms - reaffirming the recommendation the county's Planning Advisory Commission made two weeks ago.

"You always hope for something different. But it's not like we expected (the board) to step up," said Paul Reese after the meeting. He and Steve Groth proposed the moratorium and stiffer regulations.

The two are members of Goodhue Wind Truth, a citizen group critical of wind farms being proposed.

The board's unanimous decision Tuesday is the latest development in an ongoing debate over wind energy, which has pitted wind companies and property owners willing to lease them land against skeptical neighbors who claim large wind farms will pose public health risks and lower the local standard of living.

In arguing against a moratorium, Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel reasoned it would only delay tough decisions that should be taken up immediately.

County officials also wondered whether a moratorium or new regulations would have teeth, given that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has final regulatory authority over large wind farms.

While PUC would have to consider the county's laws, it could overrule them if it saw public benefit in doing so.

If that happened, county officials have said they would not be inclined to challenge the PUC. But they fear a citizen could try to bring a legal challenge because the county would not be enforcing its own law.

"We can't be putting in place something we don't intend to enforce," Board Chair Jim Bryant said.

County officials are, however, moving forward with developing new regulations. A planning advisory subcommittee on wind will begin meeting next week. Its first task will be to address the key issues and come up with some recommendations by June so the board can submit its comment to the PUC.

Setbacks will likely remain a contentious issue at the forefront of the debate.

"If we're going to have wind farms in our county, what are the setbacks going to be? That's the question," Commissioner Richard Samuelson of Cannon Falls said.

Groth and Reese's proposed ordinance would have increased the requirement for setbacks between wind turbines and non-participating dwellings to six-tenths of a mile.

Setbacks that large would greatly alter and possibly kill the projects being proposed in Goodhue County, according wind company and county officials.

Groth said that shouldn't concern the board, but rather commissioners should be concerned with determining what is a safe distance

Debate far from finished

Tuesday's meeting lasted over four hours, but deliberation among commissioners was relatively brief. Most of the meeting time involved a public hearing.

Some 25 residents spoke, most of them concerned about the wind development proposal.

People from both sides of the issue have said it has strained relationships in their rural communities.

Critics delved into a number of specific concerns regarding wind farms - such as flicker, ice throws, stray voltage, the environment - concluding turbines would be detrimental to the public's health and would strip Goodhue County of its rural beauty.

Their arguments were made up of half-truths and are poorly informed, according to Ben Kerl, a senior wind developer with National Wind, who commented after the meeting. National Wind is the parent company of AWA Goodhue, which is proposing a large wind development near Goodhue.

"The opposition's comments reflect an overreaching desire to eliminate all wind energy development in Goodhue County. They're really trying to turn any piece of information into an argument against wind energy," Kerl said.