Goodhue County rejects potential wind lawsuit
RED WING — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Monday refused to reconsider its permit for the AWA Goodhue wind project, starting a 20-day countdown during which interested parties may file an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The dominoes have already begun to fall.
After a long discussion on Tuesday, the Goodhue County Board on a 2-2 vote rejected its opportunity to file for an appeal, reversing course from its September decision to do exactly that. Commissioner Richard Samuelson was not present, and a vote requires majority for approval.
The decision was widely panned by a standing-room only audience, including three other groups who might file suit. The Coalition for Sensible Siting and Goodhue Wind Truth, local groups opposed to the wind project, are expected to continue the fight in court. Belle Creek Township must schedule a special meeting to vote in order to comply with the deadline.
"I'm a little disappointed in the county's decision to basically give up in the ninth inning," Belle Creek Township chairman Chad Ryan said.
It's unclear when the Belle Creek Township board special meeting might be held, but the township's decision is critically important to the opposition. A public entity can request a stay on a state agency's decision at no cost — essentially putting construction on hold throughout the legal proceedings — but a private entity would be required to purchase a costly bond, a requirement the opposition is unlikely to be able to afford.
The township board previously passed a measure to appeal on a 2-0 vote, with one commissioner abstaining due to involvement with a wind project. Like the county board, a 1-1 vote would be considered denial.
Cost was a critical factor in the Goodhue County Board's decision not to extend a process that's already taken more than two years. The county had allocated $5,000 in September to continue its battle over local control of wind developments. The initial filing cost $1,860. However, the appellate court dismissed the county's initial appeal due to a timing issue — it wanted a PUC decision first — while saying the appeal could be refiled at no charge.
The initial vote to appeal had passed 4-1, but commissioner Jim Bryant charged his vote on Tuesday, and Samuelson was not present. Commissioner Ron Allen made a motion to file an appeal, which was supported by chairman Ted Seifert.
"I think you're trying to ask for something you just can't get," said commissioner Dan Rechtzigel, who remains the board's most outspoken critic of pursuing the appeals process. "I don't know how many times you have to be told no."
Added Bryant: "Wind turbines are coming to Goodhue County. I don't think anything we do today is going to stop that."
Rechtzigel says the appeals process could extend past the appellate court to the Minnesota Supreme Court and, eventually, to the U.S. Supreme Court, making the process even more costly and time intensive.
Despite those claims, critics of the wind project remained unbowed. Attorney Dan Schleck, who represents the Coalition for Sensible Siting, says the issue could be revisited during the next board meeting on Dec. 1 — which would still meet the appeals deadline — under Robert's Rules of Order. Another vote could be held with the full board present.
Either way, "the county will reap the benefits of other parties that are appealing," Schleck said.
AWA Goodhue, which is developing the 78-megawatt wind project between Goodhue and Zumbrota, had a number of representatives present during the county board meeting — including president and CEO Peter Mastic — but communication director Joe Jennings said nothing has changed and they will have no comment for the foreseeable future.