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1 area wind project OK'd, another delayed

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission had a chance Thursday to approve projects for more than 200 wind turbines across southern Minnesota. However, only one wind company left the meeting happy.

Pleasant Valley's 301-megawatt project, which could span up to 72,000 acres across Mower and Dodge counties, was approved by the PUC after mere minutes of discussion. Immediately afterward, National Wind tried to cast its 78-megawatt project in Goodhue County under the same light.

It didn't work.

After nearly five hours of discussion and debate with township, county and state officials as well as citizens, the PUC decided to withhold a certificate of need and a final site permit until an administrative law judge can take a closer look at the AWA Goodhue project. The review period is expected to take about six months, which National Wind representatives say could prevent the project from moving forward.

"I'm not an attorney so I don't know all the implications yet," said National Wind senior wind developer Chuck Burdick. "Yes, I think it puts the project in jeopardy."


National Wind had spent about $2.5 million on project development thus far. It's expected to cost about $180 million to erect 50 turbines in the 32,000-acre footprint, if the project moves forward in 2011. The delayed timeline prevents the company from collecting on cash grants and may negatively impact a power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy, which has a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2011.

While now approved, the Pleasant Valley project has a number of questions remaining. The project area could be covered by as many as 188 turbines or as few as 130, depending on which size — 1.6 or 2.3 MW — the company selects. The current footprint of 52,000 acres is mostly in Mower County, while another 20,000 acres have been secured in Dodge County for possible expansion.

Pleasant Valley has faced very minimal public pushback, while the AWA Goodhue project, which is trying to put turbines in an area roughly six times more densely populated, has faced unprecedented organized opposition.

"That's telling, isn't it?" said Paul Johnson, Pleasant Valley's project manager.

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