The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has approved site permits and related transmission routes for the Big Bend Wind and Red Rock Solar projects in Western Minnesota. The state’s largest hybrid renewable energy project consists of up to 300 MW of wind and up to 60 MW of solar generation. Once contested by several stakeholders for its proximity to the Jeffers Petroglyphs, the PUC received accolades for the respectful and open public engagement process that led to agreement among many of those stakeholders.
While considering the permits, the PUC held multiple public meetings, and heard significant concerns from the public, Tribal Nations and stakeholder groups, including the Minnesota Historical Society, regarding the visual impact of the wind turbines to the sacred historic Jeffers Petroglyphs site near Comfrey, Minn.
In considering the preliminary stages of this matter in 2021, Commissioner Joseph Sullivan asked for additional engagement. “This project was not on a good path, and I would not be able to support it if the turbines were so close to the petroglyphs. I was blunt about my concerns and told the applicants more work needed to be done.”
As the project moved through the permitting process, the project applicants, the Lower Sioux Indian Community, the Upper Sioux Indian Community and the Minnesota Historical Society were able to reach a settlement agreement that addressed concerns about the visual impacts to the Jeffers Petroglyphs.
“Hearing President Larsen (of the Lower Sioux Indian Community) use words like ‘respectful’ and ‘fostering sovereign to sovereign cooperation’ to describe the permitting process was very encouraging,” says Commission Chair Katie Sieben. “The Public Utilities Commission is called on to make difficult decisions and we know not everyone will always agree, but we do strive to have stakeholders, partners and community members feel heard, respected, and part of the process. It is rewarding to know that the Commission created a space for all voices to come together to help pave the way for the building the largest hybrid project in the state.”
Along with power generating facilities, the Commission also approved a permit for an 18-mile transmission line to deliver the power to the energy grid. The projects will be built in Cottonwood, Martin and Watonwan Counties.