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Wind buffer meets resistance

GOODHUE — The cities of Zumbrota and Goodhue may soon find their hope for expansion blocked by new wind turbines, and they don't appear to have much say in the matter.

Zumbrota Mayor Richard Bauer and Goodhue Mayor Arland Voth have both requested two-mile wind buffers around city limits in recent months to allow for economic expansion. Both communities have fairly extensive long-term plans in the works that may soon be blocked by the proliferation of wind farms within Goodhue County.

Larry Hartman and Ray Kirsch from the Minnesota Office of Energy Security were unable to ease those fears at a Wednesday meeting with leaders of the two cities.

"Just like everyone else, I can't sit down with them and make any promises," Hartman said.

Leia Ryan, a member of Goodhue's City Council, also attended the meeting. Later that day, she urged Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman to consider recommending the requested buffer zone to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in his review of Goodhue Wind's 50-turbine proposal.


According to the latest siting data — which was made available to the public Monday, but is not yet finalized — Goodhue Wind will erect a turbine just over two miles west of Goodhue. It will also build four turbines within two miles of the northeast edge of Zumbrota, with the closest turbine just 1.3 miles away.

While officials from both cities cringe at those numbers — and what might come next — they currently have no other options to challenge wind projects larger than 5 megawatts, which are permitted by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. Changes in state legislation are needed to address the issue, Hartman said. Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, have both been contacted.

In the meantime, wind companies have taken full advantage of the opportunity.

"We feel we are not jeopardizing either city's growth potential," said Chuck Burdick, a Senior Wind Developer for National Wind, who is working on the Goodhue Wind project. "They don't have comprehensive plans that this project threatens to encroach on in the next 20 to 30 years."

According to Ryan, Goodhue began investing taxpayers money seven years ago in a 60-acre parcel west of town to create residential housing. She says the city has expressed interest in continuing that expansion with 40-plus acres north of town and 100-plus acres south of town within the next 10 years. Wind turbines may now force officials to reconsider that idea.

"We would be landlocked, and that's where cities begin to die off," Ryan said.

Zumbrota has similar concerns. It recently invested $250,000 to extend sewer and water piping to the west side of U.S. Highway 52 as the first step toward expansion. Thirty acres of nearby land were also purchased for development.

Bauer says that a farmer has approached the city about annexing another 160 acres, but the uncertainty involving wind farm proposals has caused some hesitation on the part of the city.


"There's no assurances and that leaves us in a conundrum," Bauer said.

Zumbrota officials had nearly reached a suitable compromise with Goodhue Wind, but the emergence of Horizon Wind's proposal that would span from Zumbrota to Kenyon killed those talks. Whereas Burdick recently had a meeting with Bauer he described as "cordial," Zumbrota's mayor says Horizon officials were not interested in a compromise after securing the wind rights they needed.

The Zumbrota City Council voted 3-2 to break off negotiations with both companies when it learned of Horizon's stance.

Burdick recently requested a meeting with Goodhue officials, and was invited to attend a city council meeting. Due to scheduling conflicts, that meeting has yet to take place.

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