Proposed wind farm project moving forward so far

Published 6:47 am Thursday, April 1, 2010

The permitting process for a proposed 300-megawatt wind farm to be located in Mower County is moving forward, but concerned citizens still have time to have a say concerning the project.

Pleasant Valley Wind, a subsidiary of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, is proposing a project to build the wind farm of 130 to 200 turbines in an 80-square-mile area bordered by Interstate 90 on the south and east, Highway 56 to the west and Highway 30 to the north.

Paul Johnson, manager of development at the Minneapolis office for RES Americas, said the company hopes to have all the major permits completed by June. The project requires a site permit and a certificate of need to be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission — both have already been submitted to the state. Mower County handles the permitting for three substations and three transmission lines for the project, which Johnson said could be submitted to the county within the next week.

“We’re making progress, and we’re happy to be moving forward. It’s exciting,” Johnson said.

If all the necessary permits are approved, Johnson said construction on the project could begin by this fall.

“We’re continuing to work on the planning side of it as a company to better position ourselves to be ready to implement,” he said.

A period for the public to present comments to the Minnesota Office of Energy Security ended in mid-March, but there will still be opportunities for public input concerning the project.

Johnson said he and other RES Americas officials have been responding to some of the comments concerning the environmental report for the certificate of need.

A public meeting will be held in later April or early May at a location within the project area. Officials with the Minnesota Office of Energy Security will present the draft site permit, and people can offer initial comments about that. Johnson described the next meeting as a formal proceeding where people will have a chance to enter official comments on the certificate of need application.

A similar meeting was held in February at the Windmill Hotel & Conference Center in Dexter as a chance for the public to voice comments about the site permit.

At that meeting, some area residents expressed their concern about the project, especially since the Dexter area is already a hot spot for wind turbines.

Since noise concerns and the distance turbines are built from homes have been frequently debated issues on many wind farm projects around the state, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission opened a docket to address that issue concerning all wind farm projects in the state.

The docket — numbered CI-09-845 — addresses all wind projects in the state, and the public can submit comments to that issue.

“That would be a good venue for them to participate in,” Johnson said.

Currently RES Americas plan to observe setback distances of about 1,500 feet, which Johnson said is triple the state requirements of 500 feet from occupied residences.

One issue is the setback distance of turbines from homes, and some area residents recently submitted a petition to the Mower County Board of Commissioners asking for long setback distances to be observed.

While the project has been met with concern as well as opposition, Johnson said there are many people who support the project.

“We have very extensive support by people in the area of the project, as evidenced by a large number of land owners who are participating in our project,” he said.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners recently sent a letter to the Office of Energy Security urging RES Americas to cooperate with the county during the project. About 95 percent of the project area is in Mower County with a few small sections in Dodge County. Johnson said RES Americas has been working with the county. He said they’ve met with Mower County Environmental Services Director Angie Knish.

One concern of the county is that one turbine breaks a microwave beam path for the Mower County Sheriff Department’s radio system. Though the path is currently not operational, the county board has previously expressed that they’d like to have the option to someday utilize the path.

Johnson said RES Americas plans to ask the county to wave that beam path so the wind farm can be developed there.

“Our impression at this point is there is no planned use for the beam path,” Johnson said. “If that’s the case, then we would want to proceed with the regulatory process to request that Mower County remove that from the ordinance.”

Another concern of the county is damage to roads during the construction process. Johnson said the RES Americas officials will work with the county and identify key routes likely to be used during the project. The company would also identify methods to prepare roads for the wear and tear of transporting parts during construction.

“We’re not going to just show up and say, ‘Here, we’re going,'” he said. “We’ll work with them in advance and that’s typically what we do so everyone can talk through and be on the same page.”