Minnesota Regulators Approve Wind Farm Despite Local Opposition

Published October 24, 2018

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously approved construction of a controversial wind farm in Freeborn County.

The PUC authorized Invenergy’s Freeborn Wind Farm project even though the company acknowledged its operation will probably exceed the state’s noise standard, which had led a state judge to recommend PUC deny the permits in May 2018.

Freeborn County residents have fought against the project, citing noise and other problems wind farms cause. More than 480 people signed an Association of Freeborn Landowners (AFL) petition asking PUC to deny the necessary permits.

Noise, Flickering Lights, Ice

In addition to the excessive noise, Freeborn residents expressed numerous other concerns about the wind farm.

Residents say they are concerned about “shadow flicker” from spinning turbines casting rapidly alternating shadows and light into homes, says attorney Carol Overland, speaking on behalf of the AFL. Residents also express fear the planned turbines are sited too close to homes and might throw ice that forms on their blades into homes or onto roads.

“Freeborn County residents are concerned about whether the turbines are far enough away from roads and houses to where ice and flicker won’t be an issue,” Overland said.

In similar cases, the state gave residents window blinds worth $11,000 per house to protect against shadow flicker and advised them to go on vacation during months when it was especially troubling, Overland says.

Concerned About Processes

The state does not have a good system for residents to voice objections against wind farms, and the PUC often ignores the rules for these projects, Overland says.

“Where do we as parties voice complaints and cross-examine?” Overland said. “In a rush to site the wind farm, the PUC hasn’t cared about the community.

“We need to develop rules regarding large wind projects such as the one going up in Freeborn County,” Overland said. “Minnesota was supposed to design these rules back in 1994, but they haven’t and won’t, and a petition I filed to start the rulemaking process was denied.”

Although wind farm developers are supposed to file decommissioning plans for wind turbines for when their operating life expires, before their construction can be approved, PUC “has a history of approving wind farms without having decommissioning plans in place,” Overland says.

‘People Are Tired of Wind’

Residents of southern Minnesota are increasingly fed-up with wind farms on or near their land and homes, says Isaac Orr, a policy fellow with Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment.

“People are tired of wind in southern Minnesota,” said Orr. “One group has even taken to purchasing wind rights to prevent wind developers from building near their property.”

If residents with turbines on their property later come to regret their decision, the public wouldn’t necessarily know about it because they are often forbidden from voicing any dissent, Orr says.

“Wind is often seen as the ‘good guy,’ but there are a lot of things that have made many people reconsider their perception of the industry,” Orr said. “People with wind turbines on their property often have to sign gag orders which prevent them from publicly voicing concerns about or problems that have arisen from the wind turbines on their own property.”

Mitchell Rolling (marolling20@gmail. com) is a research assistant at the Center of the American Experiment.