Stimulus Funding for Controversial Wind Farm Up in Air

Minnesota Congressman Leads Effort to End Green Energy Stimulus Funding Behind Controversial Goodhue County Wind Farm

An initiative led by Congressman John Kline (MN-R) would do more than terminate the federal stimulus renewable energy program that funded the bankrupt $535 million notorious Solyndra solar power project. If successful, it would also knock the wind out of a key funding source for one of the nation’s most controversial wind projects –T. Boone Pickens’ proposed $180 million AWA Goodhue Wind farm in Kline’s congressional district.

Last week Kline circulated a letter urging his House colleagues to support the immediate elimination of Section 1603 renewable energy grants. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow the so-called green grants to expire. Since tax provisions such as Section 1603 must originate in the House, this effectively curtails the program.

“Given the economic challenges facing our country, we cannot in good conscience use taxpayer dollars to subsidize industries that have failed to demonstrate proven results to help our long-term energy strategy,” Kline said in a release.

Many wind and other renewable energy projects depend on the Section 1603 grants, which were previously slated for elimination after 2010. Yet Congress extended the green energy cash grants for another year at the cost of an additional $3 billion, bringing the total spent thus far to $9.2 billion.

AWA Goodhue Wind, the developer of the 78 megawatt wind farm in southeastern Minnesota, may be among those with the most to lose if the congressman’s effort is successful. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) both support the Goodhue Wind project.

“I think it’s a huge deal. I think the tides are turning,” said Kristi Rosenquist, an opponent of the wind project. “Congress is seeing we shouldn’t just keep pouring cash into an abyss for something that’s completely ineffective. I’m hopeful that Congress is recognizing this money does not create very many jobs and the jobs it does create are at a huge expense.”

The southeastern Minnesota wind project was cited during the debate as an example of another aspect of the stimulus program’s toxic impact on taxpayers.

“While the goal of the program is to increase the use of renewable energy, including wind, I have escalating concerns about the unintended consequences of the program. For example, in Minnesota, a wind developer is working to establish a farm with more than 50 wind turbines despite strong concerns vocalized by hundreds of residents the program is slated to serve,” Kline wrote in his recent letter.

The Goodhue County proposal is eligible for about $50 million under the grant. There’s just one catch. Construction must start before the end of 2011 in order for the project to qualify for the $50 million in funding.

While the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has issued the project a permit, the developers must obtain local township permits and to submit an “avian and bat protection plan” for state approval. With less than three weeks to go, it appears increasingly unlikely that construction will get underway in time to qualify, should the stimulus program fail to be renewed.

“As a condition of permit, there’s a host of compliance provisions that must be filed,” said Bob Cupit, a PUC wind expert. “There’s some work to be done on their end. It’s certainly going to take more than three weeks.”

Goodhue Wind could still qualify for other renewable energy tax credit programs. The wind company’s representatives did not respond to FFM’s requests for comment.

The possibility that the stimulus green grants could be defunded, however, has re-energized opponents, who have fought against countervailing political winds for three years. “The primary issue at the federal level has been the funding,” Rosenquist said. “If we didn’t have this federal funding, I think there’d be very few wind turbines being built.”

Overall, 93 renewable energy Minnesota projects with a capacity of 290 megawatts have received grants totaling $186.42 million under Section 1603 of the federal stimulus legislation.

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