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Meeting held to discuss wind farm project

The Freeborn Wind Energy Project remains controversial locally, as the state gathers information about the planned wind farm.

Dozens of community members on Wednesday — a majority expressing opposition to the proposed project — packed a lecture hall at Riverland Community College. Public comments were gathered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce during the nearly six-hour meeting that was part of contested case proceedings regarding the planned project.

Wendell Nelson, chief engineer and operations manager for KAAL, expressed concern about the possible effects the wind farm would have on television reception. ABC 6 News filed comments with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission seeking to ensure the proposed wind farm does not cause interference with the station’s broadcast signals.

Speakers expressed concern about current setback allowances and requested they be increased to prevent possible health effects.

The meeting came a couple months after the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners approved sending a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and Invenergy — the company tasked to develop the project — requesting to increase the minimum setback allowance of wind turbines from houses to 1,500 feet.

During a break in the meeting, Sean Gaston, who lives with his family southwest of Myrtle, said seven wind turbines are proposed to be within a mile of their house.

“This is a big deal for us,” he said.

To Gaston, the proposed wind farm is important because of the importance the property holds to his family.

“That’s a large concern to us, because this was our place where we planned on living forever and hopefully having our kids return to,” he said.

Gaston said he hopes Invenergy looks at placing wind turbines where noise and shadow flicker are minimized on homes.

“A little more work with the actual community,” he said.

“We’ve had very little say, other than basically told where they are going to be and to deal with it,” he said. “So I think that is something that can be improved.”

Gaston expressed concern about the possible impact the wind farm would have on already-spotty cellphone service he said is already prevalent in the area.

The Public Utilities Commission is tentatively scheduled to decide whether to award a permit for the project in June. An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for February.

Dan Litchfield, senior manager of business development with Invenergy, said 42 of the 100 wind turbines are expected to be in Freeborn County. Turbines are expected to be in London, Shell Rock, Hayward and Oakland townships.The remaining balance of wind turbines for the project are planned for Iowa.

Wind energy provides a stable, low-cost energy source, Litchfield said, who added the project would reduce carbon dioxide levels substantially over the next 30 years. He said the wind farm would bring an estimated $3.5 to $4 million in local annual revenue in property taxes, lease payments and local staff salaries, and he expects the project to help offset annual instability in crop yields.

Litchfield discussed support the company gave for the Freeborn County Fair and other local projects.

During a break in the meeting, Litchfield said he thought the public information meeting was going “very well.”

“I’m happy to see a lot of people here,” he said. “It’s important that people are taking an interest in this. I think the process we are going through, we are going to get a lot information out there. It’s a really thorough permitting process in Minnesota.”

Litchfield said he hopes the project can go through so Freeborn County can receive economic benefits the project will bring, and he disagreed with assertions that wind turbines need to be at a greater distance from houses, saying setback allowances for the project are larger than minimum levels set by the state. Other similar wind farm projects have been approved this summer, he said.

District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan — who has frequently expressed apprehension with current plans for the project — said he wants the minimum setback allowance to be increased and expressed concern with how he said Invenergy has treated people who live near the proposed wind farm. 

“They (wind turbines) should be located in wide open spaces with few people, and not near homes,” he said. “There is compelling evidence that health and safety issues — as well as the visual pollution caused by large wind turbines — is not something that is beneficial to our community.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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