Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Author credit goes to John Farrell.
Community wind promises to expand the economic opportunity of transitioning the electricity system to cleaner energy, and engage local communities. Unfortunately, there’s “community wind” and community wind, as one Minnesota project starkly illustrates.
Goodhue Wind was first envisioned as a “community wind” project by National Wind in 2008 as a 78 megawatt (MW) wind power plant providing enough power for approximately 25,000 homes. Under its development model, National Wind looks for local landowners to become shareholders in their projects in order to build public support.
Residents of Goodhue County, Minn., have not been supportive and the evidence suggests that they may be right about the lack of community in the Goodhue Wind “community wind” project. Instead of coming on board, residents have instead spent the past two years stalling the project’s development.
The crux of the issue is Minnesota’s unique Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) statute. It requires utilities to offer a preferential tariff (price) to wind power projects that are owned by Minnesotans and if a majority of the power purchase agreement revenue flows to “local entities.” The law was conceived as a way to help encourage the development of community wind projects that maximize local economic benefits, much like Minnesota’s ethanol producer payment led to the development of several farmer-owned renewable fuel facilities.
Unfortunately, the success of C-BED is all in the definition. Although the state’s Public Utility Commission accepted National Wind’s application for C-BED certification, the evidence suggests there’s little chance of the project delivering many community benefits. The Goodhue Wind project has 20 local investors (pdf), but they only control about 1% of the company, with the remainder held by various subsidiaries of T. Boone Pickens’ energy empire, notably not a Minnesota owner.
Despite this dubious arrangement, the Commission ignored warnings from the state’s Office of Energy Security about the shaky C-BED standing of Goodhue Wind and its stark assertion that without C-BED status, the project was not a good use of ratepayer funds.