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39-turbine wind farm propopsed in Goodhue County

Up to 39 wind turbines could be spinning across Goodhue and Belle Creek townships as early as next December.

Goodhue Wind, LLC. will file a permit application with the Minnesota Public Utility Commission in coming days, said Tiff Thompson, wind energy developer with Goodhue Wind.

The proposed project is a large one capable of producing 78 megawatts of wind power on approximately 22 square miles of Goodhue County land.

That's more than 200 times the land mass of the 18.9 megawatt, nine- turbine wind farm given state approval and still awaiting construction in the Kenyon area.

"This would be a significantly larger endeavor," said Mike Wozniak, Goodhue County planner and zoning administrator. "We're looking at a very significant project here."

Goodhue Wind is managed by National Wind, a Minneapolis-based company with wind energy projects scattered throughout the Midwest.

Thompson admits the project is moving quickly. National Wind officials only recently contacted local landowners, she said, with hopes of putting the project online no later than 2010.

The project's lightning-fast timeline stems from a Minnesota Department of Commerce study that indicated area transmission lines had room for more power connections.

Thompson said officials quickly got in line to take two remaining connection spots.

"It's been a good luck charm of a project," Thompson said. "It's been smooth and quick."

Goodhue County officials likely will have little involvement with the project since it is larger than 5 megawatts -- too large to fall under local zoning authority. Final approval of this project will come from the state.

However, Goodhue Wind officials hope commissioners grant the project a Community-Based Energy Development designation, guaranteeing local ownership and allowing owners to negotiate power purchase agreements with all Minnesota electric utilities.

Tax breaks are also available for companies with CBED status, which must be granted by local government bodies.

Goodhue County commissioners briefly discussed the project Tuesday at an informational Committee of the Whole meeting. A vote could come as early as the next County Board meeting Nov. 4.

The wind farm could still move forward without the board's CBED approval, however.

"What we're voting on here is whether we want the money to stay local or have some big outside company come in," Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said.

Thompson said officials expect 60 percent of the Goodhue Wind project to be locally owned.

There will be opportunities in the coming months for community members to invest in the project, she said.

"CBED projects really empower the community," Thompson added. "They return over 50 percent of the revenues in most communities."

But wind energy projects haven't been embraced by everyone in Goodhue County.

A group dubbed Citizens for Environmental Rights and Safety has consistently criticized the Kenyon Wind, LLC. project in southwestern Goodhue County.

Members have said they're not against wind energy but believed the Kenyon project had several areas that needed further explanation or research.

Thompson said there are always those who take issue with a project.

"But because these CBED projects have so much community support from the beginning we usually don't have too much opposition to deal with," she added.

Commissioner Richard Samuelson, who represents Belle Creek Township, said he's not comfortable with the way Goodhue Wind seems to be "putting the cart before the horse" by not measuring wind in the area with a meteorological tower before selling the idea to investors.

Thompson said the company is utilizing several other viable ways to gauge wind capacity, including topographical maps.

"Every project has hiccups," Thompson said. "But I'm very optimistic. I expect the project to go smoothly."

Samuelson said wind officials seem eager to inform the public.

Whether or not that will quell outcry, the commissioner is not sure.

"Not everyone will be happy," Samuelson said. "But to what extent, I don't know."