Local opposition to the 78 MW project resulted in the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) sending the case to the OAH last year. The PUC wanted the administrative law judge (ALJ) to decide whether the PUC ought to consider and apply the Goodhue County ordinance to its site permit decision on the project.
In her recommendations to the PUC, ALJ Kathleen Sheehy found several reasons why Goodhue County's restrictive wind regulations should not be applied to the Goodhue project. The recommendations, which include an interpretation of related laws and findings on the evidence regarding health, safety, sound and other issues, are consistent with the positions AWA Goodhue – the company formed by National Wind to develop the Goodhue project – advocated in the case and in its permit application.
Two groups – Goodhue Wind Truth and the Coalition for Sensible Siting – have been vocal in their opposition to the development and asking for bigger setbacks, claiming that wind turbines are unhealthy.
Sheehy provided 179 findings of fact. In total, she found there is good cause not to apply the provisions of the county ordinance and that the county ordinance does not apply to the project on legal grounds.
‘We agree with her on both the factual and legal issues,’ said Chuck Burdick, senior wind developer for National Wind, in an e-mail statement. ‘We feel we have gone above and beyond state siting regulations and now look forward to the PUC's review of the project on the merits.’
Many of the judge's findings address questions raised by citizens during the process. Sheehy found, for instance, that ‘there is no scientific support in peer-reviewed literature for the proposition that wind turbines cause any adverse health effects in humans.’ She also found that ‘there is no evidence that any wind farm operation has ever caused stray voltage problems of any sort.’
The project has a power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy and a transmission agreement, but has been waiting for its site permit. Final authority for the site permit remains with the PUC. The PUC will review the findings and recommendations of the ALJ and vote on the site permit, likely within the next 30 days, according to National Wind.