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Kline proposes end to energy grant program

RED WING — Minnesota Congressman John Kline has sent a letter to his colleagues on Capitol Hill proposing to end a grant program for renewable energy, and he cites the controversy surrounding the proposed AWA Goodhue wind project in Goodhue County.

Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — commonly called the stimulus package — has provided cash grants to promote green-energy projects around the country since early 2009. That program was extended an extra year in December 2010, and some are pushing to do the same thing this month. Kline is not among them.

His recent letter urges the Committee on Ways and Means in Washington, D.C., to allow the grant program to expire at the end of this month, and he has received "some positive inquiries from other offices," according to Yelena Vaynberg, Kline's legislative director.

It was written in direct response to a letter supporting a second extension of Section 1603 co-signed by 23 influential members in American politics, including Rep. Jesse Jackson and Judge Andrew Napolitano.

"While the goal of the program is to increase the use of renewable energy, including wind, I have escalating concerns about the unintended consequences of the program," Kline wrote. "For example, in Minnesota, a wind developer is working to establish a farm with more than 50 wind turbines despite strong concerns vocalized by hundreds of residents the program is slated to serve. Furthermore, given current budget constraints, we simply cannot afford taxpayer-funded government subsidies that offer inconclusive results."

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U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a Democratic from New Jersey, wrote the letter that prompted Kline's reply. In Holt's letter, he says allowing Section 1603 to expire will shrink funding for renewable energy projects, such as wind, by 52 percent and eliminate thousands of jobs.

Kline, a Republican, counters by calling the program part of "the failed stimulus bill." Estimates from WindAction.org, a website "dedicated to providing information on industrial wind energy to enable communities and government officials to make informed decisions," say Section 1603 has provided $10 billion to $20 billion to renewable energy projects since 2009, mostly to industrial wind projects around the country.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service says the solar industry expects to install a record 1 gigawatt of energy-producing units in 2010, but the CRS projects wind installation to fall to 5 gigawatts — or half of what was installed in 2009.

Part of that decline can be explained through the situation in Goodhue County, where the 78-megawatt AWA Goodhue wind project near Zumbrota has generated concerns about siting. The project finally got a permit this fall from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission after more than two years of contentious debate and discussion, but three groups opposed to the 48-turbine project, including the township where it will be sited, recently decided to take the matter to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

National Wind, the project developer, has repeatedly said it intends to begin construction in 2011, which would make it eligible to receive more than $50 million in federal funding through Section 1603. However, legal counsel Christy Brusven said at a public meeting Monday night that the project has not finalized financing for the $180 million project.

As a permit condition from the PUC, AWA Goodhue must develop an Avian and Bat Protection Plan that must be approved by the PUC before construction can begin. National Wind's November newsletter said the plan is expected to be ready this month.

Multiple sources, including Belle Creek Town Board chairman Chad Ryan, also have said that some project participants are unhappy with the wind contracts they signed years ago, though their legal options appear to be limited due to a nondisclosure agreement in the contracts.

National Wind reps have repeatedly declined interview requests since September so it's unclear what the latest construction time line is, or how the loss of Section 1603 would impact their plans.

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