Goodhue wind project foes ready to celebrate its defeat

A troubled wind energy proposal in Goodhue County has missed a deadline imposed by state regulators to make its intentions known, and opponents of the project are preparing to celebrate its defeat.

New Era Wind had until last Friday to either surrender its site permit or provide evidence that it could begin construction by Aug. 23. Officials at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission said they have not heard from New Era owner Peter Mastic, and Mastic did not return messages left by MPR News.

The PUC is expected to move to revoke the permit, which would likely be the final step in a five-year controversy over the 48-turbine plan that Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens originally proposed before selling it to another company. Some opponents of the project, which include many residents who live near the site, for months have considered the project dead.

"We started thinking it wouldn't happen even a year ago," said Kristi Rosenquist, an organizer with the Coalition for Sensible Siting who lives in Zumbrota Township. "I just thought if one of the wealthiest, most well-connected people on the planet can't get it done, I just never saw any hope that Peter Mastic could get it done."

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The project was plagued by delays, including a fight over road and property setbacks. But Rosenquist said concerns that the turbines would kill bald eagles ultimately put the entire project in doubt after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources weighed in and cited flaws in the project's bird and bat impact study.

Rosenquist said with the Aug. 23 deadline approaching, those who fought the project plan to celebrate with a hog roast. For years, dozens of them attended township board meetings and drove up to the Twin Cities for meetings at the Public Utilities Commission.

"We're elated but exhausted," she said. "A lot of people put a lot of things on hold for a long time, because they spent a lot of time on this. People would like to get back to simply living their lives, harvesting their fields, milking their cows and spending more time with their kids doing fun things instead of battling billionaires."

Marie McNamara, who co-founded the group Goodhue Wind Truth, said the campaign to oppose the New Era project has heard from concerned residents in other parts of the state. Residents who live near proposed wind turbines are concerned about the impacts of low frequency noise and shadow flicker on their quality of life.

"I hope the state is looking harder at the projects," she said. "And I still think there are other projects in Minnesota that don't look viable and have some impacts that are not being examined."