Citizens Make an Example of Minnesota “Community Wind” Project

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Community wind promises to expand the economic opportunity of transitioning the electricity system to cleaner energy, and engage local communities in the process. 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, MN, 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 in which 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.

The heart of the problem was exposed in a commentary written by three Republican state legislators for the state’s largest newspaper:

We have a duty to protect our citizens from out-of-state corporations taking advantage of local resources. Doing so will ensure that the additional dollars paid by Minnesota ratepayers for C-BED energy will remain in our communities.

State legislators and local residents are right to be concerned, given the economic impact at stake.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that locally owned wind projects increase the economic impact of a wind project by 1.5 to 3.4 times and double the number of local jobs. With a generic wind power project generating $1 million in economic activity per megawatt, it’s no surprise that residents of Goodhue County are looking at the tens of millions lost to their community when a project lacks local ownership.

The political implications — all too clear in Goodhue — should also be considered.  The following chart illustrates the difference in support for more local wind power as reported by a survey conducted in two German towns with existing wind power projects. In one town, the project was not locally owned; in the other, it was.  Resistance dropped by 45 percentage points with local ownership!

Goodhue wind provides two lessons for wind developers and wind energy. Crafting policy to support local ownership may be a crucial step if renewable energy will play a major role in transforming the electricity system to clean energy. And when such policy is enacted, it had better make sure that “community wind” isn’t just a legal masquerade.

Original photo credit: Ruin Raider

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book

Holiday Wish Book Cover

Click to download.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

John Farrell

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

John Farrell has 518 posts and counting. See all posts by John Farrell

9 thoughts on “Citizens Make an Example of Minnesota “Community Wind” Project

  • Nice story; however I want to offer a different take on the OES comments to the Commissioners. I don’t believe the OES staff were warning the Commissioners but believe they were attempting to get them to awared C-BED status to this developer despite the fact that they did not qualify thus making the project a good use of taxpayer money. Commissioner J. Dennis O’Brien has admonished the OES (now EFP) staff on a number of occasions saying he can’t tell the difference between them and the developer. This is why I guess I feel their statement was not a warning but was more of a request: grant the status. Additionally, the language in the legislation was changed specifically FOR this project after Goodhue County resident Paul Reese pointed out that the project was in violation of the statute.

    AWA Goodhue has attempted to misrepresent the ecosystem, attempted to misrepresent citizens, and continues to misrepresent their efforts at gaining support for their agenda. If threatening to sue an 85 year old woman if she does not choose to sell them the property they need for a substation is a “Good Faith Effort” to “work with citizens” then social dynamics have changed a far bit more than I realized. Regardless, their bullying tactics have not endeared them to anyone.

    AWA Goodhue has not impacted just citizens of Goodhue County. This project has been noticed across the country and members of the Coalition for Sensible Siting have been contacted by citizens as far away as Amsterdam. Senator Lamar Alexander mentioned this project in a recent speech on the Senate floor, and the MN DNR now realizes that they must scrutinize all environmental assessments generated by wind energy biologists because the information in the AWA Goodhue ABPP was so unreliable and inaccurate.

    This country cannot afford to lose 3.7 jobs for every one green job created, cannot afford to continue the subsidies necessary to keep wind energy moving forward, and cannot afford the environmental costs caused by these gigantic blades of death. Wind turbines do not reduce our CO2 emissions and do not help reverse global warming. They are a scam and a dangerous one at that. AWA Goodhue, by being the “bad boy” of wind, may end up causing America to wake up and realize that the Emperor still has no clothes.

    • “This country cannot afford to lose 3.7 jobs for every one green job created, cannot afford to continue the subsidies necessary to keep wind energy moving forward, and cannot afford the environmental costs caused by these gigantic blades of death. Wind turbines do not reduce our CO2 emissions and do not help reverse global warming. They are a scam and a dangerous one at that.”

      What this country really can’t afford is liars.

      Be very ashamed of your dishonesty….

      • I agree, Bob Wallace, but we seem to have a lot of ignorant people who don’t know take the time to properly research issues or topics and then cast aspersions – like you. I am not being dishonest at all. I just appear to know a lot more about what is really going on in the wind industry worldwide than you.

        • OK, Mary. Impress us with your superior knowledge. Back up these statements with facts:

          1) “This country cannot afford to lose 3.7 jobs for every one green job created” – show us the data that proves green jobs kill non-green jobs at a 1:3.7 ratio.

          2) “cannot afford to continue the subsidies necessary to keep wind energy moving forward” – show us how the minuscule amount of money that is used to support the wind industry will bankrupt the nation.

          3) “cannot afford the environmental costs caused by these gigantic blades of death” – give us the environmental costs of wind turbines and explain why wind turbines are “gigantic blades of death”. Make sure you furnish comparisons of bird deaths for other electricity generation technology.

          4) “Wind turbines do not reduce our CO2 emissions and do not help reverse global warming.” – Explain why replacing fossil fuel generation with wind energy does not reduce CO2 emissions.

          Prove your case Mary.

        • Mary, FYI, Bob is a very scientifically-minded expert on this matter who has been studying it for several years. My guess is that his knowledge of the wind industry is 30-100 times larger than yours. Don’t take it as an offense, but step back and realize that you might want to look a level or three deeper than you are.

          An ‘unsolvable’ math problem to a kindergartener poses no problem at all to someone with a PhD in mathematics.

      • As far as dishonest people etc. are concerned… ’bout that AWA Goodhue and their ABPP?? I’m guessing you think their dishonesty is “okay”. The ends justify the means do they?

      • Do the work, Bob. Type Google Search on your computer and pull out key phrases like:
        Spain, 3.7 jobs lost, renewable energy…. click on a link to one of the articles and read. Or, using Google again, type in University of Juan Carlos, renewable energy, job losses……click on a link and read. That particular study underestimated the job losses. You’ll need to Google Spain, renewable energy, leaked documents, 3.7 jobs lost to get at that news about the toll subsidizing this nonsense took on Spain. When banks that leveraged themselves out with investments in wind and solar lost their shirts they didn’t fold up, they convinced the government to pump money in to shore them up. You can only plug a leaky boat for so long……read, Bob, and try to read things that come from nationally recognized sources that are not funded by RE-AMP or the AWEA.

        This nation has spent 100 Billion dollars on subsidies for renewable energy, according to the Department of Energy. You can Google the DOE and find that information there….and read. Maybe you consider that a paltry sum of money. I don’t.

        Doa Google search for corruption on the European Carbon Credit exchange and spend a few days clicking on the links that will show you scandal after scandal. If you are naive enough to believe this could not happen here, you should get ahold of the NYAG’s report on corruption in the wind industry in that state.

        There are a number of other Google searches you can do in order to educate yourself on the truth about wind energy. Read the reports – though I suspect you will not do so and would not find them credible because they do not support your narrow point of view.

        • Mary, you made the claims. You were challenged. It’s up to you to prove your points.

          But I’ll play along a bit….

          Now, the Spanish study was a total piece of crap.

          The economy of Spain melted down for the same reasons that the US economy did. Very poor regulation of the financial market. Jobs were lost because of the financial collapse. In fact, Spain would probably have been fine had the US not cratered.

          The renewable energy industries in Spain did not cause the meltdown. The amount of money that Spain spent on renewables was a tiny percentage of its GDP.

          The economist who wrote that paper destroyed his professional reputation.

          Spain has stated that having a lot of renewable energy on their grid has been a great asset to their weathering their recession. It’s cut down on the amount of energy they have had to import at a time when money was tight.

          What we have spent to subsidize wind has brought the price of wind generated electricity to “cheap”. Wind is currently one of our cheapest ways to generate electricity and is bringing down the cost of electricity to consumers in places like Texas where lots of wind has been installed.

          Subsidies for solar have brought the price of PV solar from $50-100/watt to under $1/watt. Solar has now reached grid parity in parts of the country and is reducing the cost of electricity for users.

          After 100 years of subsidy we’re still subsidizing the oil industry. And the price of oil keeps increasing.

          I don’t know what the European problems with their carbon program have to do with anything. They didn’t write tight regulations and some greedy people ripped them off for a while until they nailed up the rat holes.

          We can learn from their mistakes.

          And, remember, our cap and trade system was very successful it solving our acid rain problem.

          Now you didn’t answer my questions #3 and #4. But don’t bother. You don’t know what you’re talking about on anything concerning wind.

          You are either intentionally or unintentionally spreading a bunch of lies. (Only you know for sure.)

          If you’re an innocent victim of the fossil fuel industry and want to wise up you might start by reading the quite excellent pages on wind that you can reach by clicking on the US map on the right hand side of the page.

          You don’t need to be the fossil fuel’s Typhoid Mary….

    • Mary, I can see you think we’re idiots, but there are a number of things you are really missing.

      For one, studies I have read on the matter show that investment in clean energy creates many more jobs than in fossil fuel or nuclear.

      Your Spain study has been wildly debunked.

      Google is a funny thing. The most important factor ranking what you find at the top of a search is links to that page. When one lame study gets linked to a ton bcs it comes to a contradictory ‘finding’ of many others, it’s going to show up higher (and thus be linked to even more). But that still doesn’t make it a valid or good study.

      On subsidies: the wind energy’s historical subsidies don’t compare to those of fossil fuels or nuclear. It’s providing a ton more electricity, at a much cheaper price, than those other options at this point in its jump start.

      Subsidies also include not making industry internalize societal costs. Coal gets massive subsidies (to the tune of $500 billion a year in the U.S.), as does natural gas and nuclear. But my guess is that you don’t want to include those for some reason.

      It’s common sense, when you just think about the various costs of coal or nat gas, that they actually cost more than wind energy. But there are also scientific studies showing this. But if you want to completely block out the obvious societal costs of these dirtier options, it’s easy to get confused.

      Your comment about wind blades of death don’t make sense. If you want to go electricity-free, go for it, but most people won’t. And at the moment, there’s perhaps no other viable option that causes less death than wind power.

      Your claim that wind turbines don’t reduce CO2 emissions and global warming nonsense is complete rubbish. I don’t know where you got that idea, but certainly not from the scientific literature. Here’s a post on the latest study on this matter:

      And, as Bob notes below, please check out our wind power pages for some more in-depth debunking of your tired misconceptions or lies (I’m guessing they are just misconceptions in your case).

Comments are closed.