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12/23/09 Christmas comes to those who fight to protect their communites


Company representative confirms EcoEnergy is no longer a part of the EcoMagnolia project

In an email sent yesterday to Better Plan, Wisconsin, EcoEnergy confirmed they are no longer a part of developing a proposed wind farm for the Town of Magnolia. The project has been sold to Spanish wind developer, Acciona which now owns the lease agreements signed by landowners in the Towns of Magnolia and Union. Though the sale of the project took place over a year ago, EcoEnergy had stated they intended to stay with the project. What prompted EcoEnergy's decision to abandon the project is unknown.

Whether Acciona intends to build the wind farm with the land leases it now owns in Rock County, or or sell the leases to another buyer is also unknown.

Better Plan, Wisconsin has contacted Acciona's Chicago office to ask what the future plans are for the EcoMagnolia project but have yet to receive a reply.

The specific duration of the landowner lease/easements to land in Rock County which are now owned by Acciona is unknown. However, according to Windustry, "Wind leases and easements are often written to cover extremely long periods of time—30 to 60 years is common, and they can be longer than 150 years in some cases." [click here to read at source]

[ CLICK HERE to find out more about wind leases in AGWEEK's informative article called "Dealing in Wind"]

The original proposal called for 67 wind turbines, each as tall as a 40 story building, to be sited within the Town of Magnolia's 36 square miles.

The Town of Magnolia was the first Town in Rock County to adopt a large wind ordinance with a setback of 2640 feet from homes. Since then, four other Rock County towns have adopted a similar ordinance with the same setback. They are the Towns of Union, Janesville, Center and Spring Valley. All of the ordinances include a provision which allows a landowner to sign a waiver with the developer and the Town to have turbines closer to their homes if they wish.[Click here to download the Town of Union ordinance]



 Early Christmas for farmers threatened with eminent domain for Minnesota wind power farm

Christmas came early this week for several Minnesota farmers when state regulators unanimously rejected a permit for a controversial wind farm proposed by the City of New Ulm, which had threatened to use eminent domain authority for the first time on record to seize the wind rights over the opponents’ property in order to force through the 8-megawatt project.

“It’s a first. They’ve has never denied a wind permit like this before,” said Jeff Franta, a farmer who helped organize the opposition. ”The city utility commission has the intimidating tool of eminent domain and doesn’t have to take ‘no’ for an answer and they didn’t. We’re not interested. It doesn’t belong out here.”

“This decision sends two important messages in our view,” said Annette Meeks, CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. “First, rather than bullying landowners with eminent domain powers, city government utilities must work cooperatively with landowners the same as private developers do. Second, the current rush to install wind farms and other green energy projects does not trump private property rights.”

In a case that has attracted national attention among groups monitoring eminent domain takings, on December 21st the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 5-0 to deny the New Ulm Public Utilities Commission application to erect five wind turbines in rural Lafayette Township.

It is the first time the PUC has ever denied a permit for a wind farm project, a ruling that sends a clear signal to developers of “green energy” in Minnesota.

“There’s an expectation for these projects to move ahead with developers to engage the communities to get voluntary participation in these projects and land rights are a significant component in the commission’s assessment of a project’s viability,” said Bob Cupit, an expert with the PUC.
New Ulm had acquired easements for 237 acres to erect the turbines, but needed to obtain the wind rights to about 235 acres of adjacent property in the path of the prevailing winds to assure a free flow of wind to the turbines.

While public utilities have fairly broad powers to use government authority to force property owners to sell to meet their needs, experts said the New Ulm plan involved an unprecedented move to expand eminent domain authority to include the seizure of air space on private property for power generation.

In a July 30, 2009 filing with the PUC, Nierengarten, on behalf of the New Ulm Public Utilities Commission, insisted “the development of clean, renewable energy should be the motivating, prudent public policy consideration, not provincial notions of “local control” and the “rural way of life.”” If not, Nierengarten added, “it will be necessary for the City of New Ulm to exercise its powers of eminent domain to secure such rights and move this vital project forward.”

The opponents say they do not object to wind power per se, but have concerns about noise levels, lower property values, and the project’s adverse impact on the landscape and rural atmosphere.

“I think developers are going to pay attention to this and we’re not going to move too quickly with projects until a higher percentage of the land rights are acquired before they engage the formal proceedings for a permit,” said Cupit of the PUC .

Despite the ruling, neither side appears to consider the matter completely settled. New Ulm officials indicated they may continue to pursue the project. Opponents are already working with local legislators on draft legislation that would prevent other landowners from facing the same threat in the future.

“A public utility such as New Ulm cannot have that threat of eminent domain from the start,” said Franta. “Landowners should know from the start that they don’t have to be worried about losing their land unwillingly. Who wants to do business with someone who forces something onto you?”

The case comes at a critical time with Minnesota and the nation fast tracking green energy projects that are often fueled by federal grants, including billions in stimulus spending. Minnesota ranks fourth in overall wind production nationally with 1805 megawatts of wind-generated electrical capacity. Currently, approximately 21 wind energy projects and proposals are on the table statewide, according to the PUC.



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