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Court ruling green lights Goodhue County wind turbines

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Wind turbines
Wind turbines dot a central Iowa field in a file photo. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a wind turbine project in Goodhue County on Monday, June 25, 2012.
MPR File Photo/Nikki Tundel

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a wind turbine project in Goodhue County, over the objections of an advocacy group that argued noise and "shadow flicker" from the 397-feet-high turbines could harm the health of nearby residents.

The Court's ruling, issued Monday, upheld the earlier decision of an administrative law judge and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to approve a permit for AWA Goodhue Wind to install 50 wind turbines about 1,500 feet away from homes.  

The Court ruled that the commission was not required to follow a county ordinance on wind turbines, provided it had "good cause" not to. The county ordinance required the company to place the turbines about 2,710 feet away from residences that are not participating in the turbine project, a distance roughly the length of seven-and-a-half football fields.

The Court's opinion cites a study performed by an engineering consulting firm on behalf of the wind company, which found the turbine noise and shadow flicker would be "minimal." The Court also agreed with the Public Utilities Commission that "substantial evidence demonstrates that AWA's proposed siting does not present adverse health or safety impacts due to turbine noise or shadow flicker." 

Coalition for Sensible Siting, the group that filed the appeal, and AWA Goodhue Wind did not immediately return calls seeking comment. 

Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher said he does not think the Court's ruling will allow other wind turbine companies to easily bypass the county ordinance.

"We still have the authority to set the standards," he said.

Betcher emphasized that the Public Utilities Commission still needs to apply the county ordinance unless it has "good cause" not to. 

"I think the decision is consistent with the county's position in most respects," Betcher said. "They've reached the contrary conclusion at the end of it, but they did uphold the county's authority to have an ordinance." 

Betcher said he wants the state to issue guidelines on safe distances for wind turbines, rather than relying on case-by-case evaluations.

"I really would hope that we can all know what the rules are going to be so that the citizens can know what their protections will be and can have input in that process, which is critical," he said.