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Dodge County wind farm project hits the brakes

A proposed 170-megawatt wind farm that would span from Steele to Olmsted counties saw the air go out of its sails, at least for the immediate future.

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A panoramic view looking southwest from the top of a wind tower shows a sample of the terrain of Dodge County.
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MANTORVILLE — A proposed 170-megawatt wind farm that would span from Steele to Olmsted counties saw the air go out of its sails, at least for the immediate future.

NextEra, developer of The Dodge County Wind project, has suspended its application for a site permit and certificate of need on the project, which would include 70 wind turbines and 23 miles of transmission lines. The company also withdrew its transmission route permit request.

An environmental impact statement on the transmission line portion of the project was released July 29 and opened for public comment, with a pair of public comment sessions scheduled for Tuesday. 

However, with the company withdrawing its transmission route application, the comment period for the transmission route was closed, said Suzanne Steinhauer, an environmental review manager with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Tuesday's public meetings turned into question-and-answer sessions about the status of the project as well as a venue for local union workers who demanded NextEra hire local workers for the project.

Mike Weich, a project director with NextEra, said the Dodge County Wind project is not dead, rather the developer is regrouping while it re-evaluates the transmission line portion of the project and the costs of connecting the project at the Byron electrical substation.

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"We’re in the preliminary process of looking at other substations to tie into this project," Weich said. "Our intent is to proceed with site permit and needs permits in (early) 2020, and the transmission permit by end of 2020."

The location of the transmission lines met with some opposition during the planning and environmental review of the proposal, which has now been shelved. However, Weich said it is possible developers could still consider portions of Route A or Route B that were part of the initial proposal. 

Both Route A and Route B begin southwest of Dodge Center near 140th Avenue and south of Dodge County Road 10 and wind their way through farmland south of Dodge Center and Kasson.

Meanwhile, the wind farm portion of the project — the original plans for where the turbines would be located — will likely remain intact, Steinhauer said. Any new permit would need to include a new transmission route permit request since the current one had been withdrawn. 

Steinhauer added that when a new transmission plan is available, the environmental review and permit process will begin anew.

Not everyone is convinced the project will go forward with a new transmission plan. 

"I don't see any way they can come up with a transmission plan and get it through the (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) transmission studies to get a permit and start construction by year end," said Carol Overland, an attorney working in the energy industry who consulted with Dodge County Concerned Citizens, a group opposed to the project.

Overland, in a press release sent from Dodge County Concerned Citizens, said the "project is no longer viable" and is running out of time to get off the ground. Part of the problem is that power providers must bid for access to the MISO grid, and that access is too expensive for the project.

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Kimberly Dickey, a project manager with NextEra said the same reasons that drew the company to Dodge County in the first place are still valid. There is still a significant wind resource in Dodge County, where most of the 70 turbines would be located, and there are still landowners willing to lease property for wind turbine use. 

"There are multiple communities signing up to take on those kilowatts," she said, dispelling a rumor that all the power from the project would be sold to communities in the Twin Cities area. 

Related Topics: DODGE COUNTY
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