Wind farm agreement approved

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Minnesota Public Utilities Commission upholds site permit


After tabling the vote at its previous meeting, the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve the three-part agreement with Freeborn Wind Energy LLC for development, road use and drainage system protection for the Freeborn Wind Farm.

With the agreement in place and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission upholding the project’s site permit on Monday, construction is expected to begin on the wind farm in July.

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The project in Freeborn County includes 42 wind turbines in Hayward, London, Oakland and Shell Rock townships. Fifty-eight turbines initially included in the project have since been moved for development in Worth County.

Dan Litchfield, senior manager for project development with Chicago-based wind developer Invenergy, said he was pleased that an agreement was reached after two years of negotiations. The agreement covers information such as liability for repairs to roads damaged during the construction of the project, insurance and a road fee, to name a few.

The vote passed 4-1, with District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan casting the dissenting vote.

Association of Freeborn County Landowners lawyer Carol Overland, who represents many of the opposing property owners for the project, said the agreement is not helpful for the county.

“I’m not confident that they understand the impact,” she said.

Overland said she supported the need for a development agreement but raised concerns about portions of the agreement, mainly regarding Section 5, which she said would give away important rights.

The section states if the project is developed consistent with the development agreement and according to federal, state and local laws and regulations, that a series of statements would be accurate: “the public health, safety and welfare will be adequately protected within the bounds of the law; the project will be considered essential and desirable to the public; the initial construction of the project will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of the county; the project will not create excessive public cost for public facilities and services; the initial construction of the project will be consistent with all county land use, zoning and noise regulations, and will not be considered a public nuisance.”

At one point in the meeting, 5th District Commissioner Mike Lee asked Litchfield if he would support removing that section, to which Litchfield agreed.

Freeborn County Attorney David Walker said that section was not meant to assist Freeborn Wind but instead was added to protect the county. He said it was meant to “hold (Freeborn Wind’s) feet to the fire.”

He said he did not see the rationale for removing it and said by keeping it in the agreement the intent is voiced that the county expects Freeborn Wind to comply with all the requirements and laws. If it does not, then the county has the right “to go after them.”

Overland said it is a good thing to require Freeborn Wind comply with laws, but she was concerned by things that might happen that aren’t covered by laws.

Overland and Glenville resident Dorenne Hanson also raised concerns about two other sections — one in the development agreement and one in the road agreement — that dealt with easements and right-of-way. They asked for compromise on removing those sections from the agreement.

District 1 Commissioner Glen Mathiason recommended the board follow Walker and pass the agreement without any adjustments to the agreement.

The project will be turned over to Xcel Energy after development is completed for construction and operation.