By Dan Haugen and Ken Paulman
Video by Chuck Olson for The UpTake

ST. PAUL–The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a certificate of need and a conditional site permit for a controversial wind farm project on Thursday.

AWA Goodhue, a subsidiary of T. Boone Pickens’ Mesa Power Group, is seeking to build a $179 million, 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County. The developer has encountered opposition from a group of local residents, as well as county and township officials, who have passed strict wind setback rules.

The PUC forged a compromise between the two interests, by granting a site permit with amendments requiring a “good faith effort” to comply with the county ordinance, and imposing a setback of six rotor diameters, or 1,626 feet, from non-participating property owners. Other amendments require the developer to mitigate shadow flicker for affected properties and incorporate additional findings related to possible wildlife impacts.

The original plan for the project was based on a maximum setback of 1,500 feet, while the Goodhue County ordinance would have required a setback of 10 rotor diameters, or nearly half a mile.

Opponents of the project have been raising a wide spectrum of concerns, including noise levels, stray voltage, shadow flicker and wildlife impact.

“Our ordinance is clearly not arbitrary and capricious,” Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher told the commission Thursday. As evidence, he cited the more than 5,000 pages of procedural record developed by the county board before it approved the policy in October.

An attorney for the developer, Christy Brusven, in her testimony also emphasized the volume of testimony that’s been generated during the debate. She called it “the most comprehensive record ever compiled for a Minnesota wind farm.”

Brusven said AWA Goodhue has gone above and beyond in its proposed setbacks and outreach to the community. “It’s time to approve this project,” she concluded.

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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