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Senate committee hears dispute over locating turbines for wind power

ST. PAUL -- A Senate committee took no stand Thursday to restrict wind power farms.

A bill by Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said there is only a remote chance that his bill requiring that wind turbines be a half mile from property lines will pass this year, but a task force likely will discuss the issue before next year's legislative session.

A pair of Goodhue County residents who want stiffer rules on where wind turbines may be built and farmers from other parts of the state who say that is too restrictive took part in an hour-long debate in front of the Senate energy committee.

Kristie Rosenquist and Paul Reese supported the Howe bill to require that turbines be at least half a mile from properties not associated with a wind farm.

Industrial-sized wind turbines do not belong in areas with homes, Rosenquist said, because they produce low-intensity noise, cause headaches, produce "shadow flicker" from turbines turning in front of the sun and emit stray electricity.

Rosenquist and Reese are involved in a fight about a proposed wind farm. The case involving a Goodhue County ordinance that some say is too restrictive awaits a state Public Utilities Commission hearing.

Paynesville-area dairy farmer Ken Schefers said the Howe proposal would take excessive amounts of land out of consideration.

The bill would "absolutely end wind power," Olmstead County farmer John Meyer added.

But, Reese said, it is more important to give people a choice "what they want to live with."

Land-rights attorney Dan Schleck said wind farm decisions are made by a case-by-case basis, and supported a statewide standard. The Howe bill would provide more predictability for both developers and neighbors, he said.

Special session?

A key House Republican did not like Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton talking about a possible special legislative session.

"Gov. Dayton's a good man, and he's already shown leadership on several legislative issues this year," House Tax Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, said Thursday. "But as I said in tax committee this morning: Governor, please don't quit. Please don't give up; 17 days is a lifetime, we can make this work. Please don't quit."

In answering reporters' questions this week, Dayton said his optimism about finishing the legislative on time is waning.

The state Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn by May 23, but Dayton could call lawmakers back to a special session if funding bills are not done by then.

The next deadline is June 30, when the current budget ends. Parts of state government could shut down if there is no deal.

House-Senate conference committees are meeting this week to work out differences between spending bills the two chambers have passed. Dayton insists that Republican legislative leaders finish those negotiations before he gets involved.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said conferees will continue to meet.

Variances OK'd

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed a bill restoring local governments' ability to grant zoning variances.

The new law, which the House and Senate earlier passed unanimously, says local governments may allow variances to zoning ordinances when strictly following an ordinance would be difficult. For instance, a variance could allow a garage to be built closer to the property line than ordinances otherwise would allow.

The Minnesota Supreme Court overturned an existing law that allowed variances.

Photo ID passes House

The House approved a bill 73-59 that would require Minnesotans to show a photographic identification before voting.

Senators already passed a similar measure, so slight differences need to be to be negotiated before the bill goes to Gov. Mark Dayton. The Democratic governor says he will only sign election-related changes if they have strong bipartisan backing, but the House and Senate votes were one-sided, with mostly Republicans in favor.

Representatives amended the bill to include one provision Dayton wanted, to require politicians to report contributions and spending even during non-election years.

Bill sponsor Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said that if Dayton vetoes the bill a constitutional amendment likely will be attempted. The governor does not have to approve a constitutional amendment; instead, it goes directly from the Legislature to votes in the November 2012 election.

Federal planning

Minnesota legislators deal with state issues, but one lawmaker says they also need to consider the federal government, too.

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, on Friday takes a bill in front of committee to require state leaders to consider federal budget woes when drawing up budgets.

State agencies would need to draw up contingency funds in case there is a federal budget crisis.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.