Proposed wind farm discussed in public forum

Published 8:26 pm Thursday, May 31, 2018

Approximately 50 supporters and detractors of the proposed Freeborn Wind Farm in southeastern Freeborn County shared their opinions of the project Thursday in a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission public forum at Riverland Community College.

The public forum was in regards to a planned 200 megawatt wind farm in southeast Freeborn County and north Iowa, specifically the wind farm’s transmission line and associated facilities in Freeborn County. The forum lasted about an hour and a half.

Marjorie Hamersly, who lives in the area, said she supports the project and discussed her past leading the United Way of Freeborn County and Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

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“All of us need to be welcoming hosts toward those interested in developing our economic base,” she said.

She said the project will provide construction and technical jobs.

“The Freeborn Wind Farm can provide a source of energy, of power, with minimal investment by landowners,” Hamersly said, including providing a stable income to landowners in fluctuating economic times.

Freeborn County resident Alli Olson said the PUC should not issue a route permit, noting an administrative law judge in mid-May recommended the PUC deny the site permit for the project or provide the wind farm with a period of time to submit a plan on how it will comply with Minnesota noise standards throughout the project.

“The majority of the community being affected by this is against the project,” she said. According to Olson, the physical aesthetics of the area will be negatively impacted by the project, and nearly 80 percent of those affected by the project do not want it to occur in the area.

“Deny the permit,” she said.

Freeborn Wind is an affiliate of Invenergy LLC, a Chicago-based large-scale energy developer tasked with developing, designing and permitting the project. Xcel Energy will then purchase the ownership interest in Freeborn Wind following permitting prior to construction and will construct, own and operate the project.

The PUC is expected to deliver a decision on issuing a site permit in July.

The turbines are expected to be in London, Shell Rock, Hayward and Oakland townships. Twenty-five to 49 turbines are expected to be in Minnesota, with the remaining balance planned for Iowa.

Robert VanPelt, who lives in the footprint of the wind farm, expressed concern that it might negatively affect the area’s aesthetics and noise levels and reduce property values, adding he has seen studies that show between 20-40 percent losses in property values because of placement of wind turbines.

VanPelt said proper values need to be guaranteed for the project to ensure the financial gains of the developer should not be at the expense of local landowners.

Concern was expressed about the transmission line’s impact on local habitat and wildlife.

Faribault County resident Ray Rauenhorst said he supports the project. He discussed his background of having a transmission line near his house and said the construction of Interstate 90 also faced pushback from local farmers who did not want the project on their land, but it went ahead anyway.

“Somebody has to do it,” he said.

To Rauenhorst, construction of the wind turbines could benefit the local economy, including area schools, because of a possible influx of children whose parents work at the wind farm.

Lisa Hajek, who lives in the area of the proposed wind farm, said the route permit should not be issued until the site permit for the project is approved.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse with this discussion,” she said.

According to Hajek, Invenergy has coerced local residents to participate in the project and said “many have felt threatened.”

After the meeting, Invenergy Senior Manager for Project Development Dan Litchfield disputed Hajek’s accusations.

“We don’t coerce people into signing,” he said.

Litchfield acknowledged there was dishonest conduct by an Invenergy employee before he became involved with the project, but that employee was fired.

“That’s not the way we do business,” he said.

He said members of the public proposed two alternative routes that include property belonging to non-participants, routes that detractors of the project spoke against Thursday. Litchfield said Invenergy does not plan to use those routes.

About Sam Wilmes

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

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