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Residents mostly favor wind farm

A wind farm planned for Mower County received mostly positive remarks at a public hearing Thursday night, although some speakers said they still have questions.

About 75 people were at the Austin High School cafeteria to comment on and learn about Renewable Energy Systems Americas’ Pleasant Valley wind farm.

The meeting was a chance for the public to pose questions and comments. A similar hearing was held Feb. 22 in Dexter.

There have been changes since that meeting. About 99 percent of the project area is in Mower County with a small portion in Dodge County, said Paul Johnson, a project manager with RES. However, RES wants to condense the project all into Mower County. RES also delayed its selection of a turbine manufacturer.

Pleasant Valley would be a 300 megawatt wind farm of 130 to 200 turbines. The project area is 70,000 acres in Dodge and Mower counties. About 52,000 acres of land has been secured for the project.

Of the 27 people who spoke at the hearing, most were in favor.

Leonard Darnell said the wind farms will be beneficial to the tax base. “I think it’s a great project,” Darnell said. “It’s needed. … I’m all for it.”

Keith Jillette said he’s in favor or the project because it’s a clean, renewable energy. “Southeastern Minnesota needs these jobs very badly,” he said. “I think it’s a great project.”

James Gronseth said he supports the project because it’s a clean energy source. Gronseth, like others in attendance, said clean energy like wind farms will prevent disasters such as the ongoing BP oil spill.

“We don’t want something to happen like the things they’ve got going on in the Gulf,” he said. “It affects our whole nation, and I don’t think that can happen with a wind farm.”

A few residents said they’d rather have wind turbines than nuclear power plants. Red Rock Township resident Terry Wangen stressed the need to push forward with renewable energy because it’s the only way to improve the industry.

Questions

Despite the widespread support, some voiced concerns.

Sargeant Township resident Kathy Blanchard said nine turbines are planned to go up near her home, and she questioned how they would affect her property value and the landscape.

“I am in favor of wind energy, but I question the number that are going to be put in our area,” she said.

While he said he’s not against the project, Jim Hartson expressed concerns about RES Americas selling the wind farm to a foreign country. He said the question was posed at the Dexter meeting, but left unanswered.

In a time when there is worry about America’s dependence on foreign oil, Hartson said, it would be like switching foreign suppliers if a foreign company owned the wind farm.

Even if RES developed the project and sold it to a foreign company, that would not affect the wind farm locally.

“I don’t know what the harm would be if there was international development,” Johnson said. “The ownership may change, but the local benefits continue,” he added.

RES is a British-owned company.

RES Americas has constructed about 4,200 megawatts of wind power, but only owns about 200 megawatts. The company typically plans and develops wind farms and then sells them to another company. It is currently in discussions for a company to buy the energy Pleasant Valley produces.

Sargeant resident Ed Horne expressed concern that RES is holding back some key information from the public.

Tax base

A number of township supervisors from the project said they want the wind farm to succeed, largely because it adds to the tax base.

DuWayne Skov, a landowner in the project and supervisor in Dexter Township, said wind farms are a benefit to small communities. Dexter has 26 wind turbines already and receives 20 percent of the property taxes from the turbines.

“It’s a very, very good help for us. … It’s kept us from having to raise our levy,” Skov said.

Eighty percent of tax revenue from the turbines goes to the county and 20 percent to townships. Mower County Commissioner Ray Tucker said the 253 wind turbines in the county last year brought in $1.35 million in tax revenue.

Tucker also said about 60 people are employed in the county working on the wind farms. Pleasant Valley could add another 10-15, according to Joe Grennan, a RES employee.

Other residents raised questions about where the energy generated by the turbines goes and whether it’s used locally. Grennan told the audience to think of it as a pool that the energy is poured into with a hose, and consumers pull out with straws — that is, it’s difficult to track where a single drop of water goes.

Guy Kohlnhofer, Dodge County engineer, stressed that RES will need to work with the counties to make sure roads are repaired in the project area.

Administrative law judge Manuel Cerventes oversaw the hearing. Written comments can still be submitted to Cervantes at P.O. Box 64620, St. Paul, MN 55164-0620 until July 16.