The fight over wind turbine siting moves from Greenvale Township to Rice County

"Township Wind Turbine Discussion" is agenda item #6 at tonight’s work session after the Northfield City Council meeting.

Dr. Gary Carlson, a physician at Allina, has a commentary in today’s Strib titled Wind energy’s ripple effects.

Gary CarlsonI just returned from a meeting of my county planning committee, where we debated the pros and cons of our neighbor’s proposal to put up two 400-foot wind turbines, with the closest about 1,300 feet from our property line. My family lives on a bluff on the edge of Northfield…

Getting up to speed on the science of sound and the medical research related to wind turbines has been exhausting, and in the process I have discovered the dark medical underbelly of industrial-sized turbines. They produce a lot of infrasonic and low-frequency noise.


Scattered across four Rice County townships and capable of producing as much as one megawatt of power each, the six turbines that received preliminary approval would be constructed by Gro Wind LLC. — a company presided over by Leone Medin.  Medin was a co-owner of Medin Renewable Energy, which attempted to construct the 11-turbine Greenvale Township wind farm in Dakota County along with another company, Sparks Energy.

The companies’ plans failed last year after the wind farm ran into heavy opposition from township residents. According to permit applications submitted by the companies to Rice County, the two turbines that did not receive preliminary approval from the Planning Commission would be developed by Spring Creek Wind LLC., co-owned by Anna Schmalzbauer, Medin’s daughter.

194 thoughts on “The fight over wind turbine siting moves from Greenvale Township to Rice County”

  1. Thx, Curt. Interesting that Hvistendahl says he was assaulted by a local Northfield businessman as they were leaving the Rice County Planning Commission meeting (listen at the 23 minute mark).  "Assault, not battery. I wasn’t injured." He referred to the crowd as an "angry mob" and thought that many who spoke were rude to the planning commissioners.

    He’s also more than a little disparaging of attorney Carol Overland who’s evidently representing one or more of the landowners opposed to the siting of the turbines. See her Oct. 28 blog post: Spring Creek & Gro Wind projects in Rice County

    Today’s Nfld News editorial is not likely to make him happy: County should revisit turbine ordinance.

    To its credit, the county has a sub-section of its zoning ordinances that deal specifically with the construction of wind turbines, and the ordinance is just a few years old. However, research continues to offer conflicting views on the health and safety of having turbines close to residential areas, and some local governments are revisiting their ordinances.

    This would be a prudent approach for Rice County to take before the Board of Commissioners offers its final approval of the first six turbines that have been OK’d by the Planning Commission. A task force could review recent research, look at what other counties and municipalities are enacting and determine if revisions are necessary locally.

  2. Griff, I don’t have a position on this wind turbine project. However, I do have a position on KYMN’s “Law Review’ program. Hvistendahl and Decker are incredibly entertaining. Their last program is a tour de force in sarcasm.

    And yes, Griff, you are correct about Hvistendahl being more than a little disparaging of attorney Carol Overland. He ridicules her role in the anti Target fight saying (quoting from memory) “They were convinced allowing Target in would mean the end of civilization as we know it. And now many of the opponents shop there.”

    And Hvistendahl and Decker said that the NIMBY’s Number One Mistake on their top ten list is “failure to retain adequate legal counsel”.

    And come to think of it, Hvistendahl was just as hard on Dr. Carlson “who gained his knowledge by skimming the internet”. Again, ouch.

    1. Just proves lawyers are VERY combative…

      SOME FACTS: 1. I know at least three of the Target opponents who have NEVER set foot inside the store…

      2. Carol Overland has clients on various energy issues all over the U.S. … Does Hvisty?

      3. Dr. Carlson just attended the most current national symposium on wind energy … three weeks ago or less, so I think his info might be VERY up to date … (heard him speak at the Council Meeting last night, while doing the LWV observing)

      And a QUESTION: Is sarcasm a to-be-desired ‘attribute’ in an attorney?

    2. Curt, a knowledgeable person uses the Internet like a library, but a library with old textbooks in it that have to be ignored. I use it all the time for technical writing, but I do so in the Academic space of refereed journals that I can access for free because I work in a research facility. It’s possible that Mr V is not used to people using it in this way.

      Casual users are certainly at risk of becoming mislead (Is Google Making Us Stupid?), but use thereof is not prima facie evidence that an argument is without basis.

      Cogito ergo sum. I’m not sure cogitat. 😉

  3. Angry mob??? Must have been some other meeting, because there was no angry mob at the Rice County Planning Commission meeting. “Assault” means afraid… I hope someone posted that on YouTube! And don’t worry about Hvisty — note it’s the usual bluster and no substance, slams based on history. Reality — Gro Wind failed to follow Minn. Stat. 216F.011, circumventing state review — it’s not just projects in Rice County, look just across the border in Scott County (which pulled the Gro Wind item from its 11/8 agenda). As we say in things electric, “it’s all connected.” I’ve been working on wind projects on several sides for 8 years and have represented CFERS on the Kenyon Wind project, Safe Wind for Freeborn County on the Bent Tree project, and Goodhue Wind Truth on the AWA Goodhue Wind project now remanded. I also wrote the successful grant application for the Nfld. School District/Carleton wind turbine, and worked on initial drafts of a medium sized utility scale project. The PUC is taking public health impacts of wind turbines seriously, enough to open a docket by that name after the Dept. of Health issued its report (09-845) and have worked with my clients to submit comments. (to view the docket, go to and then “search eDockets” and then search for 09-845. Those public health concerns are why Goodhue County amended their wind ordinance, Wabasha is now in the process, and Rice should do the same. My experience in energy issues and wind specifically is why I jumped in here, and after hearing from former 402 Washington St. co-horts who are concerned, and learning of the county’s ignorance of basic wind project permitting process, what I saw was disturbing. Rice County is way behind the curve, and I’m now am indeed looking at representing parties in this. Watch, this could be fun!

  4. One other thing, I hope that City of Northfield staff and City Council members all watch the video of that Planning Commission meeting to see the Planning Commission’s attitude toward the Northfield City Administrator’s request that the one in the Urban Reserve be tabled. PC Chair Gordon Kelly’s statements on that project, after the public comment period, included a claim that the tabling request was made by someone not representing the City, and also that he’d talked to one (unidentified) City Council member and that person didn’t have problem with the project, so they should not table it and should proceed. EH?!?!? Statements like that need to be challenged, which of course I did. However, some City person in their official capacity should have been there to stand up.

  5. Knowing little about this particular project, I don’t have a position on it beyond the predictable pieties: rules should be followed, ordinances should be clear and up to date, yadda yadda.

    What I do feel strongly about, doubtless with plenty of company, is that the best available science should inform policies and ordinances. Kudos to Dr. Carlson for his efforts to understand the science.

    He writes:

    … industrial-sized turbines … produce a lot of infrasonic and low-frequency noise. You don’t hear it, but it can make you sick. It is hard to put a number on how many people are affected, but some experts suggest that 15 percent of people living within one-half to one mile of one of these turbines will develop some sort of symptom. …

    Science is all about asking skeptical questions, of both the devil’s and the angels’ advocate varieties. Here are some I’d ask about the quote above.

    How representative of general scientific opinion are the “some experts” alluded to above? A Dr. Nina Pierpont, for instance, is mentioned repeatedly as warning against windpower’s health effects. Is Dr. Pierpont a mainstream scientist, a pioneer blazing new trails, or just an especially squeaky wheel?

    What does it mean to “suggest” a 15 percent casualty rate? What does “some sort of symptom” mean? Thousands of students and hundreds of faculty and staff at St Olaf live or work within “one-half to one mile” of St. Olaf’s large turbine — many of them much closer. Have health problems been reported? If so, on what scale?

    Do natural sources of infrasonic and low-frequency noise (e.g., whale talk, ocean surf, wind in the trees) have adverse health effects? If not, why not?

    How do wind power’s “dark underbelly” symptoms, whatever they are, compare with health risks associated with other methods of power generation, like coal-, gas-, or nuclear-powered plants?

    1. In always a bit surprised that online newspapers can’t spare the bytes to provide references for their sources. It’s not like there’s a page limit, and it’s very hard to make sense of Dr. Carlson’s claims without being able to read and evaluate his source material.

      The most important questions are those of methodology, and of comparison/control groups. After all, at baseline, I would expect that 15% of any population, anywhere, suffers from some sort of sleep disturbance. And I would also expect that 100% of any population, anywhere, suffers from “some sort of symptom.”

      Hopefully, these ambiguities were simply lost in the very small word-limit allowed for opinion pieces, and Dr. Carlson will be able to elaborate on his sources in a more expanded form elsewhere.

    2. Paul,
      Thanks for your pertinent questions regarding the quote you extract from Gary Carlson’s piece. I was about to ask essentially the same questions, but you’ve done so for me!

      One can of course cherry-pick information to support whatever position one takes on this matter, but I don’t think the community should be expected to accept Gary Carlson’s point of view uncritically, especially since he has a strong personal interest in the matter (as he and several other members of his extended family are relatively close neighbors of the proposed turbines).

      While I am not a disinterested party (I am a strong proponent of development of locally owned, geographically distributed utility-scale wind projects), I have no personal financial or professional stake in these particular projects, nor am I actively involved in the development of any other wind projects. I am certainly no expert on these matters, but my limited personal research on this subject indicates to me that there is nothing approaching scientific consensus on the potential health effects of infrasonic and low-frequency noise related to wind turbines.

      Unless and until such a strong scientific basis is established, urging Rice County to change the permitting rules in the middle of the game for property owners such as the Hubers family, who wish to develop this project, and have no doubt invested a significant amount of time and money already, seems patently unfair.

      1. One additional comment. As I say above, anyone can cherry-pick their scientific “experts.” At the danger of being accused of doing so, I offer the following as an example of scientific evaluation pretty much completely contradictory to Dr. Carlson’s allegations. This appears to be the most comprehensive look at alleged wind-related sound health effects. I wish there was something more definitive from a neutral source (see my comments below about the AWEA and CanWEA commission for the report), but I am unable to find such.

        Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review

        W. David Colby, M.D.
        Robert Dobie, M.D.
        Geoff Leventhall, Ph.D.
        David M. Lipscomb, Ph.D.
        Robert J. McCunney, M.D.
        Michael T. Seilo, Ph.D.
        Bo Søndergaard, M.Sc.

        Prepared for:
        American Wind Energy Association
        Canadian Wind Energy Association
        December 2009

        A quick guide: see the Executive Summary (p. 9), Conclusions (p. 49), and author bios (p. 81). Draw your own conclusions.

        Before you howl and object that this report was commissioned by the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association, let me just say it for you: yes, it was. That doesn’t mean it should be rejected out of hand. AWEA and CanWEA acknowledge this objection in the introduction to the report, saying:

        “The objective of this report is to address health concerns associated with sounds from
        industrial-scale wind turbines. Inevitably, a report funded by an industry association will be
        subject to charges of bias and conflicts of interest. AWEA and CanWEA have minimized
        bias and conflicts of interest to the greatest possible extent through selection of a
        distinguished panel of independent experts in acoustics, audiology, medicine, and public
        health. This report is the result of their efforts.”

  6. In today’s Nfld News: Turbines’ impact on growth at center of debate

    The land in question is within Northfield’s urban reserve zoning district, which extends one mile outward from the city boundaries. While the city has no real authority in the reserve, Rice County’s comp plan says urban reserves are intended restrict development near cities so municipalities can plan and approve development that fits within their urban fabric.

    The proposed turbine sites, a half-mile south of the current city boundary, are also just outside one of the city’s designated priority growth areas.

    1. I’m not a lawyer, but it doesn’t seem to me that the City has a leg to stand on regarding throwing up roadblocks for private landowners who wish to develop a wind project that will help them to afford to keep their land as farmland for the next several decades, as opposed to succumbing to residential development pressure. And, of course, that development pressure is currently, and will be for the foreseeable future, non-existent south of County Road 81.

      If the City of Northfield wishes to project an image as friendly to green businesses and ecopreneurs, seeking to block development of this project would be a dang strange way to go about it.

  7. Gary Carlson, who wrote the commentary in the Strib earlier this week that I cited above, has a guest commentary in today’s Nfld News titled Setbacks key for turbines

    Wind energy is good, but wind turbine setbacks are key. Our present setbacks are outdated. Most are at 500 to 1000 feet from property lines or residences. Placing the turbines one mile from the edge of towns and preferably one mile from rural homes minimizes potential health issues.

    1. Adopting a one mile setback from rural homes would mean:
      -Zero wind turbines could ever be sited in Rice County (there simply are no spots available that meet this criteria)
      -Very few, if any, wind turbines could ever be sited anywhere in Minnesota (with the possible exception of exceptionally remote pockets of the state, which might or might not have adequate wind resources, and which would almost certainly require hugely expensive, controversial, and litigious transmission line development/upgrading — oh, yeah, people hate those too, partly because of their potential health effects)
      -Meeting Minnesota’s 25% Renewable Energy Standard would become virtually impossible (or extremely expensive, if, for example, only solar electric projects were developed)
      -Northfield and Minnesota would miss out on the tremendous economic development (and wealth creation) potential of wind energy
      -More coal and/or nuclear power plants would almost certainly have to be built in the state.

      Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

  8. Bruce, in reference to your comments in 8.1 it is good to remember the same massive regulatory state that we have created to ‘protect’ us, keep us politically correct, blend us, etc—–can also be there to thwart the very things you hold dear…property rights. There really is no difference between the city throwing up a bunch of regulations to impede wind development on private property than there is allowing them to create a rental ordinance that steals private land owner rights. Read today’s article about what is going on form some homeowners that are trying to rent their homes in order to stay financially solvent. Can’t do it in Northfield. A wind turbine is just as easy to regulate as a rental home.

  9. Bruce, Paul and all,

    I give you folks the same tip I gave at the Greenvale PUC public meeting on the wind farm proposed by these same companies up there. Read the Minnesota Dept. of Health report on wind projects that Carol mentions, noting recommendations for changes to state standards such as minimum setbacks.

    I would give you those recommendations, chapter and verse, except that I have had to turn my attention to Lee Theis’ application for 165-acre Motokazieland Recreational Park just south of me on the
    Bridgewater Township line at Cty Rd 9. See his announcement on his website:

  10. Bruce,
    As I recall, at the time of the Greenvale proposals, minimum setback in state standards to newer, larger turbines was 500′ from a neighboring residence. The Dept. of Health Report gathers info on wind projects both here and abroad, with decibels and setbacks factored in.

    Although they do not propose a recommended setback, setbacks are certainly a part of the data and one starts to get a notion of what is reasonable as you go through the data. Here is the section on Wisconsin Power and Light wind farm by Albert Lea:

    WPL is required to develop a site layout that optimizes wind resources. Accordingly, project developers are required to control areas at least 5 rotor diameters in the prevailing (north-south) wind directions (between about 1300 and 1700 feet for the 1.5 to 2.5 MW turbines under consideration for the project) and 3 rotor diameters in the crosswind (east- west) directions (between about 800 and 1000 feet). Thus, these are minimum setback distances from properties in the area for which easements have not been obtained. Further, noise rules promulgated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Minnesota Rules Section 7030), specify a maximum nighttime noise in residential areas of 50 A-weighted decibels (dB(A). WPL has proposed a minimum setback of 1,000 feet from occupied structures in order to comply with the noise rule.

  11. I guess my very simple confusion about this argument is this: Are 15 percent of people also suffering from some infrasonic or low-frequency soundwave-related health effects from living in homes that have furnaces and electricity? If so, how would wind turbine-related health effects be teased out of samples already afflicted by such conflicting variables?

    We’ve all, I’m sure, noticed the extreme quiet that settles on a house when the subsonic hum and vibration of electricity goes out. Electrical wiring and operation produces quite a bit of this similar noise 24 hours a day in most of our houses or apartments, as does the operation of furnaces and other forced-air components like air conditioners.

    To expand and echo Paul Zorn’s question, is there something inherently different about the noise created by wind turbines, the constant hum of electrical wiring and furnaces, and that created by powerlines, traffic or even windy days?

    Obviously, I am skeptical of claims specific to wind turbine-related noise given the excessive number of such noise sources in our daily lives now. I’m also skeptical because I don’t believe one scientific, refereed article (with controls and significantly-sized samples) has been explicitly referenced in any of the articles and comments at hand. People seem to be making claims without actually referencing anything neutral and based in scientific research.

    I would like to know how many illnesses have befallen St. Olaf students since their turbine was installed very close to several residence halls. I would expect professionals would be able to show more ill effects observable in students closest to the turbine and decreasing as moving eastward across campus. Was there a noticeable and significant jump in such ill effects in the year BT (before turbine) and AT?

    1. Judging from what a thoroughly non-expert search turns up on the Web, there seems to be relatively little refereed research on health effects of wind turbines. The paucity of research probably says little either way—the field hasn’t been around that long.


      is a link to one apparently refereed Swedish study. One quote:

      In our study no adverse health effects other than annoyance could be directly connected to wind turbine noise. Reported sleep difficulties, as well as feelings of uneasiness, associated with noise annoyance could be an effect of the exposure, but it could just as well be that respondents with sleeping difficulties more easily appraise the noise as annoying.

      This is quoted out of context, of course, and IMO the larger study hardly clinches any case, but this seems to be the researchers’ view.

      Easier to find are links like this one–wind-gets-clean-bill-of-health

      which points to a study commissioned by the Canadian Wind Energy Association and American Wind Energy Association. Such sponsorship certainly raises questions, but perhaps no more than studies sponsored by anti-wind power organizations.

    2. Paul, I’ve also noticed that the Depts of Health in a number of states (Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Maine, and others) have conducted reviews of the available peer-reviewed literature themselves. I’d say that governmental reports are about as unbiased as you’ll find…unless you’re a consipiracy nut that believes that every government bureaucracy is in the pocket of a special interest! Conclusions that “Reviews found in peer reviewed journals of the possible health effects of low frequency noise have not found evidence of significant health effects” (Maine) have been common.

      This issue, like climate change, appears to be yet another where the science and the policy are becoming confused. And if history is any indication, I’m going to bet that the science will be what suffers for it.

  12. The Minnesota Dept. of Health report, “Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines,” cited above, and the issues raised in many PUC wind permitting proceedings, was the basis for the PUC’s Docket “09-845” to address whether state setbacks are adequate. In the conclusions of the DoH Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines report it states that impacts generally abate with 1/2 mile setbacks.
    Quote from DoH Report:

    The most common complaint in various studies of wind turbine effects on people is annoyance or an impact on quality of life. Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints. Complaints are more likely when turbines are visible or when shadow flicker occurs. Most available evidence suggests that reported health effects are related to audible low frequency noise. Complaints appear to rise with increasing outside noise levels above 35 dB(A). It has been hypothesized that direct activation of the vestibular and autonomic nervous system may be responsible for less common complaints, but evidence is scant. The Minnesota nighttime standard of 50 dB(A) not to be exceeded more than 50% of the time in a given hour, appears to underweight penetration of low frequency noise into dwellings. Different schemes for evaluating low frequency noise, and/or lower noise standards, have been developed in a number of countries. For some projects, wind velocity for a wind turbine project is measured at 10 m and then modeled to the height of the rotor. These models may under-predict wind speed that will be encountered when the turbine is erected. Higher wind speed will result in noise exceeding model predictions. Low frequency noise from a wind turbine is generally not easily perceived beyond ½ mile. However, if a turbine is subject to aerodynamic modulation because of shear caused by terrain (mountains, trees, buildings) or different wind conditions through the rotor plane, turbine noise may be heard at greater distances. Unlike low frequency noise, shadow flicker can affect individuals outdoors as well as indoors, and may be noticeable inside any building. Flicker can be eliminated by placement of wind turbines outside of the path of the sun as viewed from areas of concern, or by appropriate setbacks.

    Prediction of complaint likelihood during project planning depends on: 1) good noise modeling including characterization of potential sources of aerodynamic modulation noise and characterization of nighttime wind conditions and noise; 2) shadow flicker modeling; 3) visibility of the wind turbines; and 4) interests of nearby residents and community. VII. Recommendations To assure informed decisions: ???? Wind turbine noise estimates should include cumulative impacts (40-50 dB(A) isopleths) of all wind turbines. ???? Isopleths for dB(C) – dB(A) greater than 10 dB should also be determined to evaluate the low frequency noise component. ???? Potential impacts from shadow flicker and turbine visibility should be evaluated. Any noise criteria beyond current state standards used for placement of wind turbines should reflect priorities and attitudes of the community.

    (end quote)
    The PUC has routinely been increasing setbacks in their permits, ranging from 1,000 ft in Bent Tree to 1/2 mile in response to the non-participating landowners adjacent to a project in Clay County. In AWA Goodhue, applicants volunteered 1,500 feet. There’s general acknowledgment by the PUC that the state setbacks are not adequate. As wind projects move into more densely populated areas, there will be more pushback — the withdrawn Greenvale project is a case in point.

    The Gro Wind project looks like a duck. It appeared just a month after they withdrew the Greenvale project at the PUC, and now it’s the same eleven MW but now “separate” projects, divided between six locations in Rice and Scott Counties, brought to the county instead of the PUC, and applied for without state review and determination. The duck is quacking. This projects merits a closer look.

    Although generally PPSA siting preempts local zoning, Minn. Stat. 216F.81 requires the state to apply county standards unless they have “good cause” not to.


    A county may adopt by ordinance standards for LWECS that are more stringent than standards in commission rules or in the commission’s permit standards. The commission, in considering a permit application for LWECS in a county that has adopted more stringent standards, shall consider and apply those more stringent standards, unless the commission finds good cause not to apply the standards.

    This is about applying the Precautionary Principle. As I’ve said many times to the PUC, sure, there’s a complaint process, but once a $2 million turbine is buried in concrete and is up and running, it’s not going anywhere. Siting must be done properly the first time.

    Counties are adopting more stringent ordinances. Nicollet County, for one, after a project went to PUC and asked for EMINENT DOMAIN to take land to put up turbines! The PUC was aghast, I’ve never seen them so surprised, and said that was not something they’d consider and told the project developer to go away. Goodhue County passed its wind ordinance in October, after a long process with a subcommittee vetting information and drafting the ordinance, then the usual Planning Commission and County Board. It was a more than year long process, and was finally passed, but passed just before the PUC was to decide on the AWA Goodhue Wind project, so the PUC sent it back to the ALJ to address the Goodhue Co. ordinance, and the prehearing conference is later this week. Wabasha County is also working on a wind ordinance, it’s through the Planning Commission and is expected to be adopted soon.

    There is a LOT of hard scientific fact, and there’s a lot of it in the state’s Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines” docket. Go here and where you plug in a docket number, plug in 09-845. (“Docket Number” under year, “09” and to the right of that, 845). For example, look for the Testimony of Rick James, the expert we brought in, infrasound is his specialty. Pay particular attention to those that are not sponsored by industry, promoting industry interests. And don’t forget, AWEA and WOW offered up Minnesota as a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor to the DOE — the DOE said “no thanks,” whew, but remember that when AWEA and WOW speak, they are representing developers’ interest, not the state or local governments, public interest, ratepayers or landowners.

    Also, keep in mind that there is precedent in Minnesota for mitigation of noise even where noise doesn’t reach the MPCA threshold. In the Arrowhead transmission case, we got mitigation of substation noise, specifically because it would be that low frequency phase-shifting transformer rumble, low annoying infrasound, similar to what is at issue here (even Minnesota Power’s noise expert testified that it could be annoying).

    When looking at studies in the PUC docket and elsewhere, keep in mind the standard, the burden of proof. This is not a personal injury case where there is need or reason to prove causation, this is about whether setbacks are sufficient precaution. These siting issues are administrative dockets and county CUPs that do not have that “personal injury” burden of proof. In the PUC AWA Goodhue docket, where in the case of the AWA Goodhue proceeding, they must apply the county ordinance unless there is “good cause” not to. In this Gro Wind county CUP proceeding, this is about a “conditional use,” which under Rice County’s ordinance has specific criteria. Causation is not an issue. Appearance and visual impact is. The County zoning ordinances have the larger responsibility to protect the public health and safety, and that’s what the Precautionary Principle is all about.

    GroWind has not produced any noise or flicker studies. They’ve not produced an agreement with the townships and county about repair of road damage (a provision in the lease with landowners does nothing for public roads). They’ve not produced a Power Purchase Agreement (even a price-redacted one). They’ve not produced MISO interconnection studies (burden on public facilities?) For one turbine, they claim they’ll cut down a quarter acre of trees and put a wind turbine in the woods! Can you spell T-U-R-B-U-L-A-N-C-E??? The County didn’t know about Minn. Stat. 216F.011, the applicants hadn’t complied with the statute, and an incomplete application was accepted. The county hasn’t vetted the applications for impacts, there’s been no independent review of those aspects where the county does not have staff with expertise. The County has no basis for any finding that there will be no “effect of the proposed use upon the health, safety and general welfare of occupants of surrounding lands.” That’s the standard at issue. The applicants have the burden of proof, in this case they must demonstrate that it will not have an impact upon the health, safety and general welfare of occupants of surrounding lands.” There’s no record to support such a finding by the County.

    1. Carol,

      Doesn’t blocking individual wind turbines and increasing setbacks to lengths that would prevent anything but the largest wind projects from being built just play right into the hands of huge companies (Big Wind, for lack of a better term)? Only larger companies (maybe monopolies?) will be able to buy enormous swaths of land and build hundreds of turbines and then putting in the required transmission lines to move the electricity from these remote “wind islands.” Bruce Anderson makes much this same argument in his response to Gary Carlson’s opinion article – see comment #1 in this thread.

      I don’t know you, but based on your rhetoric in this case and in other cases on which you comment on your blog, you position yourself as the champion of the individual. However, you seem to be encouraging big development at the expense of individual landowners and smaller companies. That would mean that future consumers would be more at the mercy of one or two large companies instead of purchasing electricity from municipally-owned sources or from dozens of smaller companies.

      Also, you’d do your argument a favor if you answered in layman’s terms, not by overuse of legal terminology and acronyms. Fight the case in court using judicial jargon, but please convince us in everyday language.

      (I read Rick James’ submissions in the docket you cite. There seem to be several anecdotal bits of info, but no real scientific data outside of the rather commonsense conclusion that noise bothers people, and some people are more sensitive to it than others. There was no reference to my fundamental concern that we live with sources of this noise in our homes every day – furnaces, wiring, air conditioning, humming appliances – and outside our home – traffic, streetlights, wind. I understand that expert testimony is for the courts and that’s how these cases play out, but I think people here are looking for refereed and controlled scientific studies in professional journals. Experts say a lot of things, and experts on both sides of a dispute can be found and used for their testimony. It doesn’t hold as much weight outside the courtroom, however.)

  13. Having taken the time to read the lengthy submission by Carol Overland, I would say that it does not take any expertise in the field of wind energy to ascertain that the applicant has not complied with the required components, necessitated by law, to have a successful granting of the CUP by the County.

    I don’t believe anyone here is negating the attractiveness of wind energy as a preferred alternative; however the regulating laws, and hopefully science, should prevail over any opinion that we need to have more wind turbines, regardless of either law or science.

    1. Kiffi,
      It’s important to note that Carol Overland, as legal counsel (apparently) for landowner(s) opposed to this project, is not a disinterested party in this matter. She’s doing what she’s being paid (apparently) to do.

      It will be up to the Rice County Planning Commission and the Rice County Board of Commissioners to decide the merits of her arguments, not those of us here on Locally Grown Northfield. Also, Carol appears to be conflating entirely separate wind projects elsewhere in Rice County (those already approved by the Rice County Planning Commission, known as “GroWind”, which she references in her comments above) with the project at question here (Spring Creek Wind).

      Anyone wishing to make their views known on the desirability of this proposed wind project, as well as a second Carleton wind turbine, should note that both projects will be discussed this coming Tuesday evening, November 16th, by the Northfield City Council. Vocal opponents are sure to be there; I will be as well. From the meeting packet, page 54:

      “The City Council at its work session on November 09, 2010, discussed two Conditional Use Permit applications before the Rice County Planning Commission for the installation of wind turbines in Northfield Township from Spring Creek Wind LLC and Carleton College, see attached CUP applications.

      Both applicants wish to make presentations to the City Council on their wind turbine projects. They are both listed on the agenda under “Presentations.”

      On the regular Council agenda is an action item to submit the two applications to the City Planning Commission for review and comment. This item would then return to the City Council at its regular meeting on December 07. At that time the Council will have input from the Planning Commission to determine if the City Council should submit comments on the CUP applications to the Rice County Planning Commission on December 09.”

    2. Bruce: I am truly and genuinely shocked that you are disparaging Ms. Overland who has spent virtually her entire career defending the rights of the people against the corporate interests who try to push through large and unprofitable, except for them, energy projects which are complete environmental disasters in both their short and long term effects.

      Ms. Overland has fought for both pay (occasionally) and principle (always) against projects that I would think you would also be principled against.

      I am also astounded that you would base your objection to her uniquely wide perspective on your carefully qualified (apparently) knowledge of her employment !
      Need I say that you are hardly a “disinterested party” in this matter either, given your long and worthy fight to forward the cause of wind energy.

      But you would seem to put the principle of wind energy above the applications prerequisite to the regulating law and the decision making process, and I can’t imagine you even wishing to give that impression.

      Do you recall the ‘Rush to Ethanol’ and then the retreat ? the ‘Clean Coal’ debate, the ‘Tar Sands extraction controversy’, the ‘Gold Mining in the Native Lands’ violations ??? all of these (well not the last) had strong advocacy initially; as the science grew, so did the call to slow down and figure out the scientific implications.

      Can wind energy not wait to have the need for better setbacks created if they are proven to be needed?

      1. Kiffi,
        I’m glad that I retain the ability to shock people! I’d hate to become dull and predictable in my dotage.

        As for disparaging Carol, that was not my intent. I simply pointed out what I feel is patently obvious: that she, like every other player in any issue such as this, should not be considered an impartial font of wisdom, especially not if she is now (or is soon to be) paid to advocate for people who are willing to do whatever is necessary to stop the project. I certainly don’t consider myself to be an impartial font of wisdom, and I don’t have a financial dog in this fight, just a philosophical one.

        Is there any evidence whatsoever that the Carleton and St. Olaf wind turbines should be considered environmental disasters? I would hardly put them in the same category as corn ethanol plants, tar sands projects, “clean coal,” or gold mining in the Black Hills. Based on all the evidence of which I am aware, I can’t imagine any scientific findings in the future that would put them in the same category, and I like to fancy that I have a pretty good imagination. The projects in question are surely much like the existing Carleton and St. Olaf turbines in terms of their likely impacts.

        We need to kick the fossil fuel habit, and kick it as quickly as possible. The hour is truly very late (almost certainly too late already) when it comes to global climate destabilization. To answer your question “Can wind energy not wait to have the need for better setbacks created if they are proven to be needed?”, my opinion is NO.

      2. Bruce: Glad your NOT meaning to disparage Attorney Overland as that would be a real disconnect for you, considering her long career of fighting for environmental ethics.

        But you missed my point on my list of issues, beginning with ethanol, etc… what I meant was in each of those cases there was an initial rush to consider the process as a ‘saving grace’… and then problems were found with the measurable outcomes and there was a lot of rethinking.

        I even love the look of the wind turbines, and would never equate our two college turbines which ‘bookend’ the town with anything negative; but when the PUC keeps extending setbacks and more and more questions are raised about appropriate setback, I would be willing to have a determinate view established before siting any within the urban reserve, adjoining residential properties.

        And lets not forget the incomplete permitting applications, etc.

  14. According to the lawyer representing the new LLC formed to move this project forward, there are ten big mistakes that people make when confronted with projects like this that they do not want in their backyard. (NIMBY through BANANA). I summarize below (for technical legal reasons I do so in the spirit of parody so as to obtain the protections of the Copyright laws as I understand them (and I am not a lawyer (IANAL)).

    So, I find the commentary by Dave Hvistendahl very entertaining and enlightening. I intend to try to get both the Dundas and Bridgewater Township planning commissions (where I serve) to listen to his top ten list of mistakes people make when they oppose some special actions by planning commissions.

    Top ten mistakes … #10. Arguing to the wrong audience about issues no longer on the table.

    The state commission had already ruled (by letter) that the state had no dog in this fight. Don’t go to meeting not knowing this.

    Top ten mistakes … #9. Arguing the environmental issues. “The birds, the bees and the trees.“. Those are already considered in the zoning ordinances at the time they are constructed.

    The time to bring those up is when the ordinance is written. And it is foolish to block something on environmental grounds (e.g., hard on the birds) when worse activity is already permitted.

    In a rapidly changing world, we need to review codes frequently, but in shrinking budgetary world it is hard to do so.

    Top ten mistakes … #8. Thinking that the rule of law is not as important as your personal needs.

    People were arguing their personal needs should be considered more than the published codes.

    Top ten mistakes … #7. Claiming that someone else’s rules are better than ours so we should ignore our rules and use theirs.

    See #9 as well. At the time the permit is requested is the time to deal with the wisdom found in other location’s codes. And continuing review is important to ensure that the world’s wisdom (the “Cloud”, so to speak) is taken advantage of.

    Sometimes the rules are out of date, and we have seen decision makers impose moritoriums based on good evidence that the rules are out of date. But you can expect the lawyers to take you to court almost as a matter of course if you do impose a moritorium.

    Top ten mistakes … #6. Claiming you own the view (viewsheds) and my neighbor does not have the right to change it.

    Barns and silos are an affront if you are a hunter-gatherer. But I hunt around them quite happily, thank you very much.

    Top ten mistakes … #5. Claiming that it will reduce your property values.

    It is very difficult to quantify and prove an unjust taking. And often it will turn out to not be true. And the fact that someone else will value your property more does not mitigate that you will value it less, unless you are are just there as a speculator.

    Top ten mistakes … #4. Claiming expertise you don’t have.

    Analytical skills obtained in one field (medicine) often translate reasonably well to other fields (once you learn how to read journal articles you are much better equipped to use the Internet as a reference). But do not think that that extra ability will protect you from making weak claims. For example, claiming that the StOlaf experience with its wind turbine is a valid comparable situation to one in the countryside.

    Top ten mistakes … #3. Attempt to intimidate people physically.

    Certainly don’t be going around touching people’s arms, lapels, throats or jewels (all are “assault” apparently (and I am not even an Internet-level lawyer)).

    Top ten mistakes … #2. Insult the board members who will be making the decision you are trying to effect.

    Can’t disagree with this one. Telling people they are not up-to-date on information is delicate work. It takes a real smooth talker to do this without triggering a poor response. See #1 for how to avoid this problem.

    Top ten mistakes … #1. Failing to retain competent counsel.

    Yup, the punch line is ya gotta hire a better lawyer than the other side, regardless of the side of truth and justice you are on.

  15. FYI, as I said earlier, I’m not representing any party, YET. Soon I may be part of a team, we’re “discussing” but the agreement’s not been signed. If and when it is, then full disclosure, for sure. My interest thus far is that I’ve seen more than a few of these, see above comments. I have indeed represented clients on these issues, and we’ve made quite a bit of headway over the last few years. The PUC is taking the matter of setbacks very seriously, and has been increasing setbacks on a case by case basis. In the PUC docket, they’re looking at statutory changes, ultimately, it will probably come down to the legislature after a PUC recommendation and continued case by case Orders.

    Why interest in this? My ears go up when an application for 11MW project flops at the PUC/MOES, is withdrawn, and a month later returns as “separate projects” in two counties — it waddles, quacks, has 11MW of feathers, webbed feet and a bill a la Greenvale, and “forgets” state size determination.

    David C. Boyd, PUC Chair, is arbiter of disputed size determinations, and he’s not ruled yet. FYI – the 10/29 MOES size determination was not available prior to the hearing, Trent sent a copy the following day. Although the application was filed in early October, the size determination had not been applied for as of 10/25 when I wrote Deb Pile, MOES, and she got on the county about it and they got on the developer, and voila, the forms appear at MOES (separate forms), and on the 29th it’s issued (all together on one page). Commerce/MOES was asked but has not provided any of the primary documentation supporting the late size determination request, only the forms filed, so that Data Practices Act Request is pending.

    We’ll see how this develops.

  16. p.s. Bruce, it’s not conflatulence!! I do know the difference, but because Hvisty is weighing in on the radio and indirectly, through commenters, and he’s representing just Gro Wind, Gro Wind an issue here too. Both are before the Rice County Planning Commission and Board, Scott County too, and they all went in at the same time. Both were together on the Greenvale project. The Spring Creek one, in the Urban Reserve, that attorney is Jeff Paulson, and I remember his handling of the Northfield School District/Carleton College project, as do you, and he handled many of the “Twos” in SW Minnesota that were the basis for legislation enacting the Commerce/MOES size determination requirement. I personally am more concerned about Gro Wind because it is a “connected single project” in “separate project’s” clothing.

    I’ve not seen a MOES size determination on that Spring Creek project, there’s not one in the application — perhaps it’s been added since then?

    As for cities’ interest in the “Urban Reserve,” as an example, the City of Goodhue made a point of requiring a 2 mile setback from the city for the AWA Goodhue project. And Goodhue isn’t exactly doing any growing these days either! Cities do have an interest, that’s why planners and plans identify that zone, look at all the hoopla about expansion in Bridgewater and Greenvale. It IS long range planning, it’s supposed to facilitate orderliness in growth.

  17. Commentary In Monday’s Strib: Dan Turner: Wind turbines don’t make people sick

    But the scientific research into the impact of low-frequency vibrations on health does not corroborate Carlson’s claim. In 2009, the Minnesota Department of Public Health released a report on the public health impacts of wind turbines. The researchers had difficulties analyzing infrasonic impacts, because there is no scientific consensus on how to measure low-level frequency. The problem seems to be one of distinguishing the simultaneous vibrations of wind blowing through the trees from the infrasonic vibrations of turbines. Infrasonic vibrations from turbines appear to be no different than infrasonic vibrations found elsewhere in the environment.

    Windustry, a national nonprofit that advocates for community-owned wind energy, properly sited turbines and community involvement in wind-resource development, is holding a conference today and Tuesday in St. Paul. It will feature recognized experts in all aspects of the wind industry, and is intended for anyone with an interest in wind development in their community. Information is on our website,

  18. Dan Turner is program analyst for Windustry based in Minneapolis. Naturally he will paint a rosey picture.

    Concerning the Hvistendahl “Law Review” program, he said at the beginning that Ms. Becker found the top ten list on a website of Nimby Myths. I googled that and there is a lot on NIMBY topic, but I don’t find this particular one. Anybody else find it?

    I didn’t care for the mean-spirited tone of the program, myself.

  19. Still waiting for people to answer my questions about all other sources of noise, natural and man-made, inside our homes and outside, that produce similar noise. The fact that the only response given was that, for this project, certain legal requirements may have gone unmet leads me to believe that there is no response to be given, or that the advocates for blocking alternative energy actually have no scientific studies (not anecdotal reports, not expert testimony) on which to rely.

    I find it humorously ironic that people who claim to be so concerned environmentally would play an (unwitting?) hand in perpetuating fossil fuel dependence by setting up essentially impossible permitting requirements that would make wind energy production a reality only for the largest companies.

    There will never be perfect sources of energy, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say wind might be more sustainable and environmentally friendly than coal, oil and natural gas.

    1. Brandon –

      A few comments. First, it’s not binary, wind or coal. Wind doesn’t replace coal, that’s not a part of any PPA or any wind project. And not one RES requires that any coal be shut down, so what RES does is make a false market in an already glutted electricity market, and it allows coal generated utility to be sold on the market. MISO’s intent, stated in the ICF Benefits Report is to displace natural gas with coal (Report is here: check conclusions in Executive Summary and at end). Though natural gas is at an all time low, natural gas peaking power remains high because of the high capital costs to build and operate a plant for only a few hours a year. We’re on an “economic dispatch” system, cheapest generation goes out first. Also, economic dispatch doesn’t take into account externalized costs, like transmission capital costs, line loss, reactive power requirements, etc. So a lot of coal can be sold on the market and cost can rise quite high before it reaches the price of natural gas peaking power. I don’t support an RES without a linked reduction in fossil power — and note that wind industry is going full throttle toward ineffective RES to inflate their market and doing nothing to stop coal. Worse, wind industry is also pushing transmission and settling for very very little of “wind on the wires.” Minnesota “environmental” groups have made deals over the years to promote wind that also pave the way for increased coal, promotion of IGCC (coal gasification) and transmission that facilitates new coal. For example, in the SW MN “It’s for Wind” (NOT) case, 213-302MVA of 2050 MVA capacity was wind coming off of Buffalo Ridge (the powerflows are in the record). In the Brookings CapX case, they intervened to SUPPORT CapX and settled for about 700MVA of a 4100MVA capacity (double circuited 345kV 954kcmil ACSS). What’s the rest of that capacity? Coal from the Dakotas, that’s what CapX is about. RES and wind industry support of transmission facilitates coal burning.

      I’m not clear about how requiring safe and respectful siting “would make wind energy production a reality only for the largest companies.” What I have seen in C-BED applications, specifically Kenyon Wind and AWA Goodhue Wind, is that the turbines are sited closer to neighbors than to the residents, someone hosts a turbine but puts it way far away from them and closer to their neighbors. Another issue is that it’s often absentee landowners who don’t have to deal with it. And again, siting isn’t binary. Projects can be sited sufficiently away from people’s homes and businesses (including farm buildings that they work in), and that’s what I’ve been working on with my clients. Bigger projects, i.e., Bent Tree (an IA company siting a WI project sited in MN, issue of first impression), that was not a slam dunk and we got increased setbacks from the applicants, they willingly offered setbacks twice the state’s inadequate ones. Again, it’s not binary, setbacks are the only way to mitigate the impacts of turbines because they don’t move once they’re up, and projects can be sited more carefully. The PUC and developers recognize this. You might want to watch some of the PUC’s deliberations on wind projects. If you go to and then look on right, there is a section with agendas, and if you click on a day’s agenda you can see what’s listed and if there’s something interesting, click the blue “watch webcast” button and watch. AWA Goodhue’s Motion for Reconsideration is up on Nov. 23, regarding the PUC’s remand to the Administrative Law Judge to address the Goodhue County wind ordinance.

      Scientific studies… Rick James did background noise measurements of “before’ at various Goodhue sites, included in his rebuttal testimony (letter), and has done before and after measurements at other sites across the country. That’s the kind of evidence we need for hearings. When you’re asking for “scientific” studies, there are plenty of epidemiological studies out there, and I’m guessing you’re probably looking for studies demonstration causation, and again, causation is not at issue, though it may be the issue you’re concerned. Epidemiological studies demonstrating association are “scientific studies.” We’ve entered many of them in the PUC’s Health Impacts record and various project records, and there are more coming out all the time.

      Overall, yes, I agree, wind is good! So is solar! Problem is that these are intermittent, and need backup. Wind and solar should be sited near load and FIRST near existing gas plants to provide backup and utilize existing transmission infrastructure and transmission reservations. Clients of mine in New Jersey are watching solar panels replacing farmland, and this is a siting issue — using southern New Jersey’s prime ag land for solar when there are building roofs all over right at load? That’s nuts to transmit any distance a resource that has low capacity factor. We need solar on every house, simple solar heaters on the south wall of every building in Minnesota. Same applies to wind, the wind lobby’s ideas of sending wind to the “Windy City?” To the East Coast? Nuts. They have their own wind and don’t want it from outstate. The Eastern governors and regulators are really upset about the Midwest’s idea of JCSP transmission because 1)they know it’s for coal, not wind, 2)they know it’s too costly, and 3)they really don’t like that their own resources and up and running solar, offshore, and onshore wind projects aren’t even recognized by Midwest transmission advocates. They’re fiercely fighting attempts to spread the cost of Midwest transmission eastward.

      Because I live in both Minnesota and Delaware (next to 2 nuclear reactors in MN and 3 in DE,) and right now representing clients in Minnesota and New Jersey on transmission, several wind projects here in Minnesota, dealing with Delaware energy issues (like the IRP and legislative process resulting in the country’s first permitted offshore wind project), the broader picture is clear – distributed generation, generation sited so that we can live with it. It’s not easy, but it will work.

      1. Carol,
        While leaning into the blizzard of your verbiage, I came across a number of statements I can agree with, especially:
        “Wind and solar should be sited near load.”

        I couldn’t agree more. I have had a 3.04 kW PV system installed at my home for just over four years now. My wife and I bit the bullet and invested a lot of our (very limited) dollars in what we felt was the right thing to do. I love our PV system dearly.

        In those four years, our grid-connected system has generated just under 14,000 kWh of clean electricity. In the same time, Carleton and St. Olaf’s turbines have jointly produced approximately 36,000,000 kWh of clean electricity, close to load. That’s the equivalent of the output of about 2,570 PV systems the size of ours. Those 2,570 PV systems would have cost more than 15 times the combined price tag of about $4.2 million for the Carleton and St. Olaf turbines. I sincerely hope that 2,570 PV systems are installed (at an ever-decreasing cost) over the next, say, 10 years, but I’m not holding my breath.

        Another even more important statement:
        “the broader picture is clear – distributed generation, generation sited so that we can live with it. It’s not easy, but it will work.”

        The amount of distributed wind generation that could potentially be sited in Minnesota under the current science-based setback (and other) guidelines: thousands of megawatts.

        The amount of distributed wind generation that could potentially be sited in Minnesota under the suggested one-mile setback from rural residences: zero megawatts.

        Let’s get real. With the criteria you seem to want, “it’s not easy” is not accurate. “It’s impossible” is accurate.

      2. Thank you for responding, Carol. I do appreciate it. Some of this makes sense to me, and I do realize this is not an either/or issue.

        My concern with setbacks being pushed to a mile from any residence stemmed from Bruce Anderson’s claim that, at that distance, there is literally no land in Rice County that could have a wind turbine on it. That’s what raised the red flag for me. That’s what made me wonder how we’re going to develop widely-distributed alternative energy with local or regional control for our energy future.

        I still think your answer is largely legalistic, which makes perfect sense given that’s what you do. I’m fine with that. If you block a wind project because the company or landowners didn’t comply with the laws on the books, that’s their fault. I would not and will not fault you or any other attorney for that.

        However, as it regards changing the laws and codes for future wind development, it sounds like a lot of the advocacy for increasing setbacks and such is based on speculation and anecdotes. If that speculation is incorporated into new zoning laws and becomes the basis by which future wind projects get denied, then I think that’s a misapplication of science which must be about causation or strong correlations.

        To wit, are there any scientifically objective, controlled studies which demonstrate that wind turbines cause or are strongly correlated to the symptoms as claimed? (Yes, I realize causation is usually too high a hurdle to jump, but there should be enough data across multiple studies to show a likely causal relationship: turbines –> statistically significant increase of symptoms in the vicinity.)

        Perhaps my expectations for such law are too high. I guess I’m just hoping that the best science (not advocacy) is used in developing the laws concerning wind and other forms of alternative energy.

  20. Health issues (real or imagined), aside, I don’t like the thought of individual giant wind mills dotting the landscape. I do not find these huge structures intrinsically attractive, nor does the sight of one pull on my non-p.c. heartstrings. This selfish view is based on my personal esthetics- these giant structures visually pollute the rural landscape. But I realize wind power plays a role in necessary alternative energy schemes. So, if we have to have them, I favor wind farms. Put as many as possible in one location, so less of the landscape is spoiled.

  21. William,

    Excellent point about aesthetic costs. They’re real.

    Tastes differ, of course. I kind of admire the stark geometry and clean lines of an occasional white turbine against a blue sky, but a lot of turbines is another aesthetic matter. To paraphrase some (true) doggerel I was force-fed in school, I think that I shall never see a turbine lovely as a tree.

    But …

    (a) Large remote wind farms make good sense where they make good sense. But they raise their own problems, such as extra transmission costs and efficiency loss, economic concentration, and (arguably) the moral hazard of (continuing to) export our annoyances to others while enjoying their benefits.

    (b) A lot of our built environment could be faulted on aesthetic grounds, and worse. I don’t much like the look (or sound or smell) of I-35. Some of the buildings on both local college campuses seem to me less beautiful than their natural surroundings. Agricultural and industrial odors sometimes waft through our town. (For the record, Malt-o-Meal must create the world’s best-smelling industrial effluent; I would stoutly resist any plan to move them to Buffalo Ridge.) Yet we accept some of these annoyances as costs of doing life’s business, or as reasonable choices among imperfect — but available — alternatives.

    1. Ironically, I use a term not often heard in this context. Simple economic justice would suggest that wind turbines be placed near the load so that transmission lines need not be used to cross disinterested landowner’s property (think of the opposition to CAPX2020). And I often point to heavily billboarded north Mpls as an example of how politically disorganized communities get stuff that more powerful communities like Edina do not.

      As Chair (at the time) of the Dundas Planning Commission I argued that we should think of requiring a wind turbine for every new housing development, said wind turbine to be collocated (per safety standards) to the housing.

      Planning Commission Rule #1: Nothing gets around NIMBY like being able to say “the turbine was here first”.

      Then I suggested that the ownership of the wind turbine be tied to the houses such that (1) the owners get a quarterly check if it makes money, and (2) the owners get to pay for removal or repairs (through an association structure similar to what we use in the countryside for shared well systems.

      Planning Commission Rule #42: Nothing helps prevent complaints like a piece of the action

      But I was told that no developers would come if we asked for this, so I guess it is okay to let developers pretend that power just “shows up”. Funny, we don’t let developers pretend that sewer and water services just “show up”, and I would hope we are able to extend that philosophy to power other nice to have stuff.

      It is a sort of simple economic justice to ask that the beneficiaries put up with the inconvenience of having the turbines nearby.

    2. Paul…Well…beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I guess unattractiveness is as well. Anyway…If we need 5 windmills around Northfield (or any burg), then my personal preference is that the five be grouped. Perhaps that isn’t possible here and now, but that’s part of my point: Plan for grouping so these things aren’t scattered around helter-skelter. For example, I’m a little surprised that Carleton didn’t have the foresight to place their mill where there would be room to put the next one.

      1. William,
        There is actually room for one more turbine (or quite a number, actually, though distribution infrastructure would have to be beefed up) at the existing Carleton turbine site. The initial plan was to have a second, Northfield Public Schools-owned turbine on the same site. Needless to say, it didn’t happen.

        At least part of the reason Carleton isn’t proposing to locate their second turbine on this site is that they intend to directly interconnect to their campus distribution loop (an option not available to them in 2004, as the distribution loop didn’t yet exist).

        Beauty is, indeed in the eye of the beholder. I loved the view of cows grazing on Mayflower Hill when I was a kid, before it was covered in high-end houses. Come to think of it, I loved the beautiful bluff where the Spring Creek Wind project is proposed, back when it was just pasture and cropland south of town. Then a few folks built prominent houses up there 10 or 15 years ago. All of this was allowed by City and County ordinance, just as the proposed wind project is allowed by County ordinance. C’est la vie.

      2. Bruce,
        So, interconnecting to the campus distribution loop would be impossible if the new turbine is placed by the existing one? Or would it be somewhat less efficient or somewhat more expensive? If so, I wonder if Carleton has even considered the ‘cost’ of the visual pollution associated with a separate site for the new turbine.

        As to the project(s) being ‘allowed by County ordinance’: I’m sure you would agree that being ‘allowed’ does not necessarily make it right. (See Bruce’s top ten list). Nor does it seem that being allowed necessarily means that the applicants have filed for all the necessary permits, or done all the necessary due diligence. Carol Overland sure seems to think otherwise.

        I am by no means an expert, but as far as energy efficiency goes, I fail to see how placing individual turbines all over the countryside can be more efficient than putting them in the same place.

  22. All,

    To repeat an “advert” I’ve mentioned before, but one still relevant to these discussions …

    The best source I’ve seen anywhere on renewable energy is the book Without Hot Air , by David MacKay, a British physicist at the U. of Cambridge. MacKay’s main point is that serious discussion about energy has to be informed by numbers and data. He looks largely at possible renewable energy strategies for the UK, but nearly all of the analysis makes sense anywhere the laws of physics apply.

    You can download the entire book, free, at , or just read sections here and there. (Start with the 10-page synopsis.) MacKay is a first-rate science writer, has a nice British sense of humor and occasional political incorrectness.

    I don’t believe MacKay addresses “infrasound”, but he’s by no means an uncritical advocate of wind energy. He’s especially dubious of small-scale home windmills, for instance. He writes:

    Perhaps the worst windmills in the world are a set in Tsukuba City, Japan, which actually consume more power than they generate. Their installers were so embarrassed by the stationary turbines that they imported power to make them spin so that they looked like they were working!

  23. Looks like Gro-Wind was “working the system” in spacing these turbines out as they did. I see setbacks as a main issue and am glad the state agency is working on it. Obviously, 500 ‘ from a wind turbine which is almost 400 ‘ is not enough.

    Threatening that a larger setback would prevent any future wind projects is extremist talk. Same tactic was used against setbacks to feedlots. Same old, same old. I would weigh in at l/4 mile from a single turbine, more for a wind farm maybe.

    People are speculating as to why Carleton did not use land it already owns for its first and future turbines. Is it true they found an absentee owner from Florida for their first one?

    1. Stephanie,

      Isn’t it more a matter of math than extremism? If there is no particular spot in Rice County that is not within 1 mile (which some groups seem to be advocating as a proper setback for a turbine) of a residence, then a 1 mile setback would make wind turbines an impossibility in Rice County.

      I will admit, I do not know if this is actually true for Rice County. I am relying on Bruce Anderson’s response. Perhaps there is something more nuanced about the wording of setback provisions that I do not know. Can affected residences agree to a turbine that doesn’t meet the setback, for instance?

  24. I’ve not seen efforts to enact a one mile setback — what I have seen offered by developers ranges from 1,000-1,500, and I’ve seen the PUC order 1/2 mile for non-participating landowners who objected to the siting plan for the project. Goodhue Wind Truth was working towards a half-mile setback, and realized it with the 10 Rotor Diameter setback in the new Ordinance. I would urge anyone wanting a change in the Rice County ordinance to file for an ordinance change with some proposed language, and then go through the zoning ordinance change process, info gathering, public notice and hearing, and lots of discussion. That’s also one thing Gordon Kelly urged people to do at the Rice County Planning Commission hearing last week if they wanted larger setbacks. An ordinance change takes a while, it’s a deliberative process with lots of public input. I’d also urge participating in the PUC’s “Public Health Impacts of Turbines” docket, 09-845, contact the PUC for info on that. 651-296-7124.

  25. Wed. Nfld News: Carleton readying plans for second turbine.

    Campus officials chose the proposed site — located on agricultural land along Hwy. 19 owned by Hazel Peterson — for its “superior wind strength,” good elevation and proximity to campus, among other factors, college officials say. The nearest residence not claimed by the Peterson family, which owns several parcels of land around or near the site, is roughly 1,100 feet away, Larson said. The turbine is less than a mile east of the Northfield city limits, which means that it falls within the city’s urban reserve boundary, an area designated by Rice County that is intended to restrict development near cities until incorporated into city limits.

  26. It would be nice if people like Overland and Hvistendahl were willing to suggest compromises, but that is not what our legal system is about. Even so, perhaps one or both would care to reply to this request. Could we write an enforceable code that would set a minimum setback for safety (fall zones, throwing blades, etc.) but that would also require that all people within a larger distance (say 1000′, 2000′ or the like) sign an easement that would stay with their property, that easement permitting that turbine? While this won’t address the slice and dice bird kill apocalypse hysteria, it does at least give near neighbors leverage to become part owners and to thereby profit from the income stream.

  27. Today’s NNews (thanks for posting the link, Griff), reinforces my thought that setback is key:

    The same goes for Bill Lamberty, who lives on a 60-acre farm a half-mile from the existing Carleton turbine. Lamberty says he has no problem with the college’s plans, as long as Carleton doesn’t plan to build the second turbine within a half-mile of his home. Nor has the farmer experienced any adverse health effects from the college’s current turbine, he said.

    How many feet in a half mile?

    1. Google has nifty unit conversion widgets. Typing “1/4 mile in feet” gives

      (1/4) mile = 1320 feet

      I agree with others that setbacks are key. How about 0.0548596113 leagues?

      1. I use a widget I like to call “my head”. I used to take weather observations overseas where visibilities are measured in meters. 1 mile was reported as 1600 meters, so 1/4 mile would be 400 meters. A meter is roughly 3.3 feet, so multiple 400 by 3 (1200) and add a tenth of that (120) to the total. Voila…1320 ft.

        Has anybody considered setting the setback at a particular low freq threshold level (if that’s the main health/safety concern)? My understanding is that those levels may not extend equally in all directions from the source, that they may be affected by things like prevailing winds and topography. If this is true, it would seem possible to model proper setbacks for each individual turbine, setbacks that may be a mile in some directions but not necesarily in all directions.

        Oh wait…nevermind. I forgot we weren’t talking science anymore. Now we’re just talking law and “burden of proof”…that kind of stuff.

      2. Paul, your suggestion (0.0548…) is in a league of its own. And Phil, who says “Oh wait…nevermind. I forgot we weren’t talking science anymore. Now we’re just talking law and “burden of proof”…that kind of stuff.”. I am a scientist (or at least I am at the creative component end of science as a research statistician) and it gives me great pain and more than a little cognitive dissonance when I cross the threshold into making codes and laws that integrate science. Ouch.

      3. Bruce, I can imagine. I’m just glad that, as a scientist, you recognise the difference between science and policy (and feel some discomfort when the two merge). Coming from the world of the Atmospheric Sciences, I worry that some in my field may have occasionally muddied the distinction…perhaps with what they consider the best of intentions. I’ve never been a believer in the Machiavellian idea that “the end justifies the means”, but I’m sure there are some that are.

  28. re: 29.1.1 OMG, the “head’ as a guiding principle, and the fact that the head includes a brain; I laughed out loud with glee at the thought that anyone still relies on the rational qualities of human intelligence!

    Thank you, Mr. Poyner, for the “head’ as a powerful ‘widget’ that might overrule, and actually make a difference, in discerning the Big Picture within which we live.

    1. Phil, you’re right about the variable characteristics of sound, and setting a setback based on levels that move all over is problematic. These variabilities are what Goodhue County wrestled with when it looked at setting a 40dB limit, and at what amount of flicker is OK, and ultimately set its setback distance at 1/2 mile, in large part based on the Dept. of Health note that complaints tend to disappear at 1/2 mile. The county wanted a setback that residents could live with, and essentially the setback distance that would hopefully eliminate complaints, and something measurable. Sound levels, variable as they are, aren’t, Sound levels are much higher when there is a certain type of cloud cover that keeps the sound waves close to the ground and they travel further, this is the “worse case scenario” and what setback distances should be based on.

  29. On 11/16, the City Council asked the Planning Commission to make a recommendation on two Rice County CUPs regarding wind turbines. The Planning Commission has called a special meeting on Monday, 11/29 at 7:00pm to review the City’s planning documents and make its recommendation to the Council. I believe the notice of this meeting will be sent out on Monday next week.

    More details on my blog.

  30. In the Wed. Fbo Daily News (and for some reason, not in the Nfld News): Wind turbines given green light

    The Rice County Board of Commissioners approved conditional use permits allowing construction of four wind turbines in the Rice County area Tuesday morning, but tabled the discussion for one project until Dec. 14 because of pending legal action. Webster and Wheeling townships will each see a tower built, while Richland Township is preparing for two. Commissioner Jake Gillen acknowledged a project in Northfield Township is being challenged in court, but declined to comment further.

  31. In today’s Nfld News: Mandamus trips up wind turbine development

    Rice County officials have been ordered to re-notify residents in Northfield Township of a public hearing on the proposal to build two wind turbines in the area. A county judge ordered a writ of mandamus earlier this month, which could force Rice County officials to re-notify dozens of individuals affected by the proposed construction of wind turbines in Northfield Township — and delay any county action on turbine construction approval.

  32. Yeaaaa Dunnwald! The “could” in the article is misleading, because it’s an Order providing a heads up that they didn’t follow the law, and a specific direct that they’d best correct that problem and do it right. It’s about time Rice County got slapped for failure to observe basic laws, like giving proper notice! Last time I tried, raising no fewer than TEN clearly and specifically documented violations, where the county ignored basic rules about environmental review, we got tossed out of court, “The County knows it has to follow the law, so I’m not going to tell the County to follow the law,” and the appellate court agreed! This Order is long overdue, and it’s good to see a judge willing to stand up to the county and say, “Follow the law! Do it right!” Well done, Tom!

    1. So who was this brave judge? I don’t believe his name was in the story.
      Good to know who to give a vote to, the next time elections come around…

  33. KYMN this morning: Northfield planning commission determines position on proposed wind turbines

     The commission approved a motion finding that Carleton’s application for a Conditional Use Permit(CUP) is consistent with the principles in the Northfield Comprehensive Plan and does not pose evident obsacles to achieving future planning objectives. 

    The commission also indicated in a second motion that it found a CUP for wind turbines in the Urban Reserve District is consistent with the principles expressed in Northfield’s Comprehensive Plan; however, the proposed placement of the Spring Creek Wind turbines may constrain the growth of the city in order to maintain necessary setbacks.

    In a third motion, the Planning Commission recommends that the city council initiate discussions with other governmental units in determining which permitted and conditional uses should be allowed in the Urban Reserve District.

    Tracy Davis, PC Chair, had a blog post last week about this titled: Wind Turbines in the “Urban Reserve” around Northfield, as did Councilor Betsey Buckheit: Wind on the Planning Commission agenda.

  34. Nfld News:

    Planning Commission says no to turbines in township

    Davis said that while the development of wind energy turbines in the urban reserve area is compatible with the city’s comprehensive plan, the Planning Commission is concerned that the location of the proposed turbines may constrain Northfield’s development options on its southeastern edge.

    While the proposed setback meets state statutes, Davis said, a growing body of evidence has shown that those distances are inadequate, which factored into the decision. “I think we would have been fine if they could locate the turbine farther back,” Davis said. “If the city grows out to its boundary line, which should happen in the next 10 to 30 years, that line would only be 1,700 feet from the turbine.”

    1. The planning commission reached the right decision but for the wrong reasons. To claim that placing renewable power generation close to the city is an egregious application of NIMBY. This is why things like CAPX2020 are so annoying. Chicago wants clean air and no new coal plants, so they push the power generation out west (Not In THEIR Back Yard) then are astonished when people object to high-tension power lines being laid across their private land. But eminent domain put in the railroads and the highways and it will put in the power lines.

      So, it is reasonable to revisit the setbacks, and Davis is correct when she says that the state statutory setbacks are inadequate. But the better reason to block this particular situation might have been the cashflow model that makes it appealing to the newly formed (9/29/2010, per MN SoS site) GroWind LLC. I would argue that we should proceed VERY cautiously when enabling a startup when that startup is heavily dependent on government grants and tax breaks. The long term planning that businesses should engage in can be highly distorted by these short term cash sources, and the taxpayers can end up paying twice, once up front when the profits are made and then again at the end when damages must be repaired (I have heard that it is about $500K to remove one of these turbines when it is no longer functional). This moral hazard suggest to me (a sometimes screaming free-market Liberal) that planning commissions and city councils ought to be able to review the long term cash flow planning behind the request.

      1. Bruce: I think I remember that a Planning Commission is NOT allowed to make their own determinations of the fiscal worth of a project; but must make their determination based on the land use regulations of the LGU’s involved.

      2. Kiffi, you are of course, correct. As I pointed out in reviewing Prophet (sp? Profit) Dave’s epistles on the topic, this would be item 9.5, the confluence of 9 and 10, and it would remind people that the time to object to the rules is NOT at the time of application of said rules, but rather at the time of writing said rules. On the other hand, a “reactive moritorium” imposed to allow deliberation, review and rewrite is a reasonable response that gets around the “oops, we did not intend THAT” factor. But with powerful opponents, one must be extraordinarily cautious and scrupulously in line with other laws to avoid being beaten with your own codes over otherwise trivial missteps. As any lawyer (even a canonized one) will tell you, the law is not about right and wrong, it is about legal and illegal.

      3. Kiffi, my reply drifted (cognitive drift?). Yes, you are correct, Planning Commissions are probably NOT allowed to consider the financial merits even though taxpayer money is being spent, but I still ask those financial questions.

  35. Tracy,
    1,700 feet would seem to be a fairly generous setback, compared to those that seem – on a cursory search of the internets – to be required in most countries with more experience with wind power.

    What evidence did you rely upon in making your decision that 1,700 feet was too close to the possible future edge of the City of Northfield?

  36. If you’re interested, revisit the Nov 9th “Law Review” at the 21:00 minute mark. Here, Attorney/Prophet David Hvistendahl predicts that the city will find a way to approve the Carleton windmill (“the city of Northfield has never opposed a college’s major building project” ) while trying to find a way to differentiate it from the private project SE of Northfield–so that that project will be rejected.

    To me, this smells like a case of “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

    Your thoughts Tracy?

  37. Patrick,
    Having sat through the three-hour-plus Planning Commission meeting, I can report that the only evidence concerning the setback issue was presented by the locally prominent M.D. who just coincidentally lives 2200 feet from the nearest proposed turbine. His stated opinion was that an appropriate setback, from a public health perspective, is one to 1.25 miles (not only from the hypothetical future edge of Northfield, but from any residences whatsoever). During discussion among the commissioners, no other objective information on the issue was raised. The project developers DID point out that they have met all current County setback requirements, including the science-based requirement concerning 50-decibel sound setbacks, and that they didn’t move the precise turbine sites further to the south from the ridge line in deference to neighbors on that side of the ridge.

    I found it rather remarkable that a body that has consistently embraced and espoused the concept of sustainable community development, including favoring in-fill and higher density development, and other approaches to minimize sprawl, should suddenly become “concerned that the location of the proposed turbines may constrain Northfield’s development options on its southeastern edge.” Gee, I kinda thought that green belts (which wind turbines would help maintain, as they allow the landowner in question to do exactly what he says he wants to do: keep the land agricultural for the next generation) would be viewed as a good thing by this Planning Commission. Silly me. Not so, apparently.

    Curt, I think your sense of smell is pretty acute. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Maybe Northfield isn’t the “special place” we like to pride ourselves on thinking it is, after all.

  38. Bruce (Anderson),
    That is most disappointing. In his published opinion pieces, Dr. Carlson did not cite any actual studies supporting his claims about the unhealthy effects of proximity to wind turbines. Was he any more specific in his presentation to the Planning Commission?

    It’s always dangerous – but particularly so in areas of scientific and health study – to rely on argument by authority. Rather, claims regarding health and safety risks should be based upon careful, systematic research whenever possible. If anyone – even an expert – makes a public claim about supposed health risks, they should also be willing to present the evidence supporting their claim, so that the research in question can be evaluated regarding its quality and applicability to the question at hand.

    At any rate, are these even questions that are applicable to the mission of the Planning Commission? It doesn’t seem that they have any particular expertise in environmental risk assessment, or any charge to make such determinations.

    I really would appreciate it if any of the four members of the Planning Commission who voted for this recommendation would speak to their mission, and their thought process, in this decision.

    BTW, Bruce: Who were the four commissioners who voted in favor, and who were the three who voted against? And what reasons did the minority cite for disagreeing with the majority?

  39. Tracy you’re quoted in the NFN is this article:

    “I think we would have been fine if they could locate the turbine farther back,” Davis said. “If the city grows out to its boundary line, which should happen in the next 10 to 30 years, that line would only be 1,700 feet from the turbine.”

    If I understand correctly, you’re looking at the distance from the proposed turbines to the “Urban Expansion Boundary”. This boundary line is an imaginary line. The city growing up to that line in the next 10 to 30 years is conjecture–and given current and likely future economic conditions growth to that line would be miraculous.

    Furthermore the existing St. Olaf and Carleton turbines are placed WITH IN the Urban Expansion Boundary. Where was the Planning Commission when these turbines were proposed, approved and built? Indeed, some animals are more equal than others.

    The proposed SE turbine is located 1700 feet from the imaginary Urban Expansion Boundary. The proposed Carleton turbine is located 3200 feet from the boundary line. Is that 1500 feet significant? Where is the hard science behind these numbers?

    Given the use of arbitrary setback numbers, and ignoring the non problematic existence of both Carleton’s and St. Olaf’s existing turbines with in the Urban Expansion Boundary, I believe the Planning Commission has cooked the books in making this decision.

    The maps showing the Urban Expansion Boundaries and existing Carleton and proposed turbines can be found on Betsy’s blog:

    1. Curt,
      Thanks for the link. Betsey’s blog on the subject is quite interesting reading.

      Some words she uses to describe the Carleton wind turbine proposal:

      “easy to understand and to like” “gift” “green” “buffered” “spinning” “wonderful” […and to counter all that, an acknowledgment that…] “some consider hideous.”

      Her words for the GroWind/Spring Creek Wind proposal?

      “How different” “only heard about through back channels when it was almost too late to comment” “suspicious” “developers” “commercial” “profitable” “just a money-making deal” “no concern for the impact” “concerned neighbors” “contentious” “even harder to calmly and objectively consider” “impact on Northfield”

      Does it take a prophet with David Hv.’s vision to predict Betsey’s votes on these two projects?

      1. Why thank you, Patrick. You captured the gist of Betsey’s blog perfectly. Carleton’s windmill=feels good. GroWind=feels bad. What more does one need to know?

      2. Curt,
        It wouldn’t appear that we need Doctor Hvisty’s prophetic powers (although, as you’ll see below, Betsey disputes that her mind is made up…). I share the following 11/28/10 exchange about her post, which took place on Facebook:

        My 11/28/10 reply to Betsey:
        I am concerned about your objectivity when you say, regarding the Spring Creek Wind project, “which the City Council only heard about through back channels when it was almost too late to comment. Given the way the issue got to the Council, it’s easy to be suspicious of this one.” In your October 30 blog post you say “Northfield city staff did receive the required notice, but Brian O’Connell did not pass this along until Councilor Jim Pokorney asked about the issue after hearing about it from a neighbor to the project.”

        This hardly seems like back channels. Rather, it sounds like Brian O’Connell failed to notify the Council or Planning Commission, which is hardly a reason to fault the project developers. Nor does it seem fair for this to be justification for your opinion that “it’s easy to be suspicious of this one.”

        Also, when you say “The PC needs to balance the goals objectives of the Comprehensive Plan which call for energy conservation and sustainability throughout the community and the planned use of the land at the south edge of town for residential development,” I am again confused. Surely you do not think that land south of County Road 81 will face residential development pressure in the next 20 to 30 years, do you? Do you disagree with the staff assessment (from Brian O’Connell) in the PC packet (, page 6):
        “Future residential development within the Priority Growth Boundary and Urban Expansion Boundary is located a considerable distance to the north of the proposed wind turbines and there is no evidence that the wind turbines will negatively impact future residential expansion. The Staff conclusion that there is little or no impact that the proposed SCW wind turbine would have on future planning initiatives of the City; therefore, Staff recommends that the Planning Commission advise City Council that the wind turbines as proposed by South Creek Wind LLC be approved by Rice County.”

        Betsey’s response later on 11/28:

        To take your issues in reverse order
        1. I believe the staff report oversteps its authority with everything following “therefore” – that’s not our charge.
        2. Yes, Bruce, I do think the Planning Commission needs to balance goals and interests -… I did not state (and you failed to infer) whether I thought the balance was going to be difficult or whether I believe it tips quite readily one way or the other. The staff recommendation/background is not the final word – if it was we wouldn’t need the PC.
        3. Yes, I do believe that it’s easy to be suspicious because of the difficulty in getting information, the neighbors asking the city to somehow act against it, and other related developments like the mandamus action just reported. I did not say that I believed the suspicion was justified. Indeed, my comments about the planning commission balancing goals was intended to indicate I think the suspicion must be put aside.
        Bruce – my blog post did not say I was against this project (and I’m not), it only noted the PC meeting, other information and distinguished the Carleton project’s clarity from the Spring Creek Wind project’s public outcry and murky information. Your reading was unnecessarily and unjustifiedly negative.

  40. Patrick, Curt, et al, let me try to address some of your questions. It may take a few separate comments.

    First, the “mission” of the Northfield Planning Commission on this issue was to make a recommendation to the City Council about whether or not these two Rice County CUP applications would affect Northfield’s planning and land use options in a way incompatible with its Comprehensive Plan. Whether you like the plan or not, whether the lines on the maps are arbitrarily drawn or not, they are the guiding documents that were the means for assessing the CUPs.

    Both the Carleton and Spring Creek Wind CUP applications are in the Rice County Urban Reserve District, but the locations have a different relationship to Northfield’s expansion boundaries and land use documents.

    The Carleton site is located within the city’s Urban Expansion Boundary, and is designated on the Conservation and Development Map as “Conservation Development”, and on the Framework Map as “Rural”. Without going in to all the ins and outs of what those designations mean, and how they got there, suffice it to say that the Carleton site is on Northfield’s official planning maps and has a direct relationship to our guiding documents; the property is designated as open space, and devoted to agricultural use.

    The proposed Spring Creek Wind sites are outside the City’s Urban Expansion Boundary and do not have a direct relationship to Northfield’s official planning maps. However, our planning documents guide the area just north of the site (along the boundary created by Co. Rd. 81) as “Managed Growth”, designated for residential neighborhoods.

    So, while the two CUP proposals have superficial similarities, they’re quite different in their details and their relationship to Northfield’s land use policies.

  41. Tracy,
    Thank you for your preliminary answer.

    The key question, from what I understand, regards what you write here:

    “The proposed Spring Creek Wind sites are outside the City’s Urban Expansion Boundary and do not have a direct relationship to Northfield’s official planning maps. However, our planning documents guide the area just north of the site (along the boundary created by Co. Rd. 81) as “Managed Growth”, designated for residential neighborhoods.”

    What evidence did you use to determine that wind turbines would adversely affect possible future developments which may eventually be built at least 1700 feet to the north of the proposed wind turbine location?

  42. Tracy, thanks for your response.

    On one hand, we have a privately financed source of renewable energy. On the other hand, we have the Comprehensive Plan–which imagines houses within 1700 feet of the turbine. The 1700 foot set back is a guess. The houses are not in the works.

    Why not revise the Comprehensive Plan to allow for the windmills? It seems overly dogmatic to stick with a document when conditions change.

    1. Curt,
      Why revise the Plan? First, it would be necessary to demonstrate that the turbines are not in compliance with the Plan.

      They aren’t even located within the region guided the Plan, and have not been demonstrated to adversely affect the area guided by the Plan.

  43. Regarding the setback issue… Can I cheat and just say, “It’s complex”?

    Clean renewable energy is a very good thing. I’d like to see more of it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it around Northfield. This is not only consistent with, but encouraged by, our Comp Plan, and also by the current City Council’s emphasis on sustainability.

    However, the benefits of wind energy turbines need to be weighed against other issues such as public health, safety, and welfare, quality of life, blah blah blah. Which trumps what varies with the particular circumstances and the most urgent need at the time of the decision.

    I prefer to err on the side of what I think is reasonable caution. Spring Creek Wind’s closest proposed turbine is less than half a mile from existing City limits; even given the current real estate funk, it’s not far-fetched to think that the designated growth area may, in fact, grow in the next 20+ years, and at that point there could be dozens of families living 1700 feet away from the turbine. (This is closer than the houses on Hwy. 19 are to the existing St. Olaf one.)

    Many European countries (which are 10-15 years ahead of us in practical use of wind energy technologies, and the dangers and unintended consequences of implementing same) have increased their setbacks, either to a greater fixed distance, or to the point where the noise is measured under 40 db. (Current MN law allows 50 db.) In exotic places like Wisconsin, many towns require setbacks of half a mile (2640 ft.). The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission knows our state law needs to be re-examined, but hasn’t yet been able to come to a conclusion despite months of formal hearings.

    While I don’t hold to the position of thinking that setbacks need to be a mile or more, like those extremist radicals in the English House of Lords, I do have concerns.

    Most of this may not meet dweeb standards for “scientific evidence”, but I don’t feel like doing any more digging right now, and some of the sources cited have lots and lots of impressive initials after their names.

  44. Tracy,

    You wrote,

    Regarding the setback issue… Can I cheat and just say, “It’s complex”?

    You can, but in academics (if not in government) cheating is often considered grounds for expulsion.

    Unfortunately, you are merely linking to advocacy sources opposed to wind turbines. That’s not necessarily any better than trusting “the crazy guy down the street who thinks that cell phones cause cancer in bystanders.” It might even be true, but why are you taking his word for it?

    As a governmental official, you need to rely on some kind of a defensible standard. Lots of other governmental institutions do it, and you could at least draw upon their published expertise on the matter.

    Otherwise, you are merely operating on a principle of arbitrary fiat.

    If you are not up to contemplating “dweeb standards” for evidence, then why are you willing to make dweeb-level decisions?

      1. Tracy,
        What you have read does not seem particularly relevant.

        What you used as a standard to make your decision is, however, very important.

  45. The motion that was passed 4-3 on Monday was the finding that in general, CUPs for wind turbines in the Urban Reserve District is consistent with the principles of our Comprehensive Plan; however, the proposed placement of the Spring Creek Wind turbines may constrain the growth of the city in order to maintain necessary setbacks.

    I asked the three Commissioners who voted against the motion to articulate their reasons afterward.

    Alice Thomas said she agreed with the first part of the motion, that wind turbines in the urban reserve is consistent with the principles expressed within the Comp Plan, simply because Northfield doesn’t have any jurisdiction outside city limits, and currently doesn’t have a future land use map that would indicate anything beyond the Urban Expansion Zone. She disagreed that we should include the remaining part of the statement for the same reasons, i.e. felt it was inappropriate because she considers our planning documents silent on the matter of that particular site. She also was not sure she agreed that the proposed turbines would have negative impact on development with City limits.

    Steve Rholl did not agree that the proposed placement of the wind turbines would have a negative impact on development within the City limits. His view was that the turbine setbacks met all state and regional criteria, and believes that the jury is still out on potential health impacts. He said that we were asked by the Council to comment on how the wind turbines fit in with our Comp Plan, and his answer to that is: “They’re consistent.” That’s all he wanted to say.

    Jim Herreid had a mixed opinion, but ultimately voted No on the motion, and my understanding is that was in part because he did not think the CUP was consistent with our Comp Plan as regards that area.

    1. Steve and Alice seem to have understood the issue quite clearly:

      The proposed site meets all legal criteria, and is outside your jurisdiction. You have also failed to demonstrate how it negatively affects the areas within your jurisdiction.

      1. Let’s remember that the ultimate permitting decision in this matter lies with Rice County. It’s also important to remember that the ultimate City of Northfield comment to the permitting authority (Rice County) will come after next Monday’s City Council meeting.

        For those who haven’t looked at the Planning Commission packet for their meeting, you may find the City staff recommendation interesting; it certainly was unambiguous, at least:
        “Based on the review of the Comprehensive Plan, the proposed wind turbines by SCW are outside the Urban Expansion Boundary as indicated in the Plan. Future residential development within the Priority Growth Boundary and Urban Expansion Boundary is located a considerable distance to the north of the proposed wind turbines and there is no
        evidence that the wind turbines will negatively impact future residential expansion. The Staff conclusion that there is little or no impact that the proposed SCW wind turbine would have on future planning initiatives of the City; therefore, Staff recommends that the Planning Commission advise City Council that the wind turbines as proposed by South Creek Wind LLC be approved by Rice County.”

        If (and it remains a big if) the Council supports and passes along the Planning Commission’s comment more or less as it stands, I look forward to seeing how seriously the Rice County Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners take this recommendation, given the historic relations between the Rice County Board of Commissioners and the City of Northfield.

        I’m sure the Carlson extended family and their legal counsel (former City Attorney Maren Swanson, who spoke on their behalf at the Planning Commission meeting) will be in communication with our City Council members between now and next Monday evening. I hope the good citizens of Northfield who take exception to the Planning Commission decision on this matter communicate their concerns to the Council before (and at) the meeting as well.

        Are some animals indeed more equal than others in our fair city? We shall see.

    2. Tracy, if the city is going to block rural residents use of their land based on the impact on their neighbors ability to eventually develop, then we have an issue of which taking wins out, the taking of the rural right to be rural (think milk cows in a bucolic bunch), or the taking of the ability to use the land. Viewsheds, smellsheds, soundsheds, watersheds. Sounds like it is time for a trip to the woodshed. 😉

  46. Tracy, it appears the primary reason for the setbacks is to mitigate the whoosh whoosh, low freq sounds and ground-transmitted vibrations along with other difficult to measure things like “quality of life”. I contend that low political power equals low quality of life. That’s why north Minneapolis is a billboard jungle and Edina is not. Perhaps it is time for progressive cities like Northfield to publicly state that they are willing to put up with the infrastructure in their own backyard (power generation being one aspect) rather than pushing it out of sight and out of mind. Quality of life in the city is already impacted heavily by noise (you can hear Hwy 3 and Hwy 19 traffic from quite a distance). That should be part of the tradeoff for getting to live in a beautiful city with amenities close (walk, bike, bus) at hand.

    As for your contention that in 20+ years Northfield may be built out to that distance, I am curious to know what planning factors underlie that conclusion. Could you summarize the assumptions (not conclusions) with respect to:

    * National population demographics and growth and Northfield’s share thereof?Given that you already have room for 400 new houses in the Northwest Territories, and lots of room for in-fill, plus Dundas’ sitting on an unknown inventory of empty lots, how much growth is reasonable?

    * need for local vs distant jobs? If commuting starts to get too expensive, will jobs come to Northfield workers or will Northfield workers move to the jobs? What does that do to your planning factors in #1?

    * Carrying capacity issues with respect to taxes, infrastructure maintenance and lack of money from State and Federal funds.Sonoma County, California, is reported to be letting most of their rural roads revert to gravel due to maintenance costs … this is not necessarily a good plan in MN due to our four season environment.

    It is time for a discussion amongst the three planning commissions here in the Greater Northfield-Dundas area. While we may have different visions for where we want to go, it is perhaps time for us to all be playing from the same set of underlying assumptions (those planning factors).

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