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Judge: PUC not obligated to apply county ordinance

ST. PAUL — An administrative law judge's ruling Friday could kick-start long-delayed wind farm plans in Goodhue County.

Judge Kathleen Sheehy delivered her 41-page recommendation on the 78-megawatt Goodhue Wind project after nearly six months of review.

On virtually all of the issues raised by Goodhue Wind Truth, the Coalition for Sensible Siting and Goodhue County itself — such as setback distances, stray voltage, noise standards and shadow flicker, among others — Sheehy ruled that the concerns were not applicable due to inadequate or ambiguous information for the record, or having otherwise been covered by language at the state level.

Sheehy found good cause for the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to overrule the local ordinance that was adopted last October. Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher was not available for comment.

"Because Goodhue County has not assumed the responsibility to process applications and issue permits for LWECS (Large Wind Energy Conversion Systems) of less than 25 megawatts, the commission is not obligated to consider or apply the more stringiest standards established by the county ordinance," Sheehy wrote.

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Parties in the contested case hearing, which also included Belle Creek Township and the cities of Goodhue and Zumbrota, have a 10-day period to comment on Sheehy's recommendation. It will then be sent to the PUC for review. A PUC spokesman expects the issue to be added to the agenda in late May or early June.

National Wind's Chuck Burdick, who is the project's lead developer, was guarded but pleased with the judge's recommendation.

"I think it means we had a thorough evaluation of all of these issues," said Burdick, whose company has spent nearly $8 million on the $179-million project thus far. "I think it means the people who were opposed to this project had every opportunity to bring their facts to the table and have them reviewed in detail. For us, this is a step in the right direction."

The PUC has undergone a significant change since the last time Goodhue Wind was discussed. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, was appointed chair in March by Gov. Mark Dayton. Anderson previously authored Minnesota's Renewable Energy Standard and its Community-Based Energy Development laws — the latter of which Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, have been trying to overhaul after Goodhue Wind was designated such a project in 2010.

"I think it's very unfortunate that local control is being overlooked on this issue … but it's not over," said Marie McNamara of Goodhue Wind Truth.

Mazeppa resident Kristi Rosenquist, of the Coalition for Sensible Siting, said she was more stunned than angry when she heard that Sheehy hadn't supported any of the provisions in the county's updated wind ordinance.

"I sort of expected that she'd piecemeal it out about half and half," Rosenquist said. "I didn't expect her to throw out the bathwater, the baby and the washcloth and then burn down the house."

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