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Board won't put moratorium on wind farms

RED WING — The wind energy debate in Goodhue County continues to play itself out in lengthy public meetings, but a possible resolution remains at least a few weeks away.

On Tuesday, the Goodhue County Board heard 37 public comments — many of which broke the three-minute time limit — before unanimously voting to deny a moratorium on wind farm construction and an amendment that sought a 0.6-mile — or 1-kilometer — setback. Almost all the speakers supported for those two measures.

Instead, the board will send the issue back for consideration by a three-person subcommittee within the Public Advisory Commission. It will be chaired by Joan Volz.

That was the PAC's recommendation to the board after its April 19 meeting, which had most of the 60-person crowd prepared for Tuesday's ruling. Volz will meet with staff later this week in preparations for the first meeting, which is expected to take place next week. It's unclear how long updating the county ordinance will take, though commissioner Ron Allen urged them to act quickly.

Senior wind developer Ben Kerl of Goodhue Wind, which is one of three proposed wind farms in the county, says the new timeline works with the company's. Goodhue Wind's 78-megawatt proposal is accepting public comments for at least the next 30 days while it awaits a site permit meeting with the Public Utilities Commission. It isn't scheduled yet but is expected to take place in June.


Goodhue Wind's proposed wind farm covers 32,000 acres in central Goodhue County, near Goodhue.

Despite the apparent setback, opponents of the wind projects feel their message is starting to gain traction.

"Best $546 I ever spent," said Steve Groth, who proposed the changes along with Paul Reese. "It's not over yet. People are starting to wake up."

Goodhue Wind has more than 100 contracts signed as part of its 32,000-acre project. However, opposition continues to line up against it and against other wind projects.

At least four of the five townships in Goodhue County tried to adopt a setback or moratorium. The city of Zumbrota has asked for a 2-mile buffer zone.

Goodhue City Council member Leia Ryan said Tuesday that the city wants the same buffer zone, citing a 64-acre investment property to the west of the city.

It remains a tricky issue because the county has siting and regulatory authority on projects up to 5 megawatts. Stricter regulations adopted by the county with regard to larger projects can be disregarded by the PUC if "good cause" is found, while also leaving the county open to litigation, according to county attorney Stephen Betcher.

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