The state is giving a troubled southeastern Minnesota wind farm project one more chance to show it can actually build some wind turbines. The project has been controversial since it was first proposed four years ago.
The design calls for 48 turbines on about 50 square miles of land in Goodhue County. It was originally proposed by billionaire T. Boone Pickens, but the project has undergone ownership changes and faced determined opposition from neighbors. Xcel Energy is now suing to get out of an agreement to buy power from the wind farm.
All the parties brought their claims to members of the Public Utilities Commission. Commission chair Beverly Jones Heydinger repeatedly expressed her frustration to attorney Todd Guerrero representing New Era Wind that the company has been less than forthcoming with needed information.
"Your client did not give us an in-service date. Your client gave us no assurances on any other questions that related to progress toward construction," Heydinger said. "Your client gave us no assurance he stood behind the certificate of need application or the permit application, and moreover whether it was capable of going forward with this project as it was permitted."
Guerrero has only represented New Era Wind since Tuesday. That's because Xcel Energy's lawsuit created a conflict for previous attorneys. Guerrero asked for a two-week delay to become familiar with the case, but the PUC refused.
Guerrero says that decision further hinders the project, which he says the company still wants to build.
ONE MORE CHANCE FOR WIND PROJECT
"They've spent more than $15 million trying to build a wind farm in Goodhue County, to do what the priority of the state says we should be doing: creating green jobs, green investment, green tax base," Guerrero said.
Public utilities commissioners say that New Era Wind owner, Peter Mastic, a project developer from Reno, Nev., has not responded to community concerns about possible impacts on wildlife. The PUC rejected a company plan to protect eagles and bats from the turbines.
The commission spent hours discussing complications arising from the project's ownership change. There was disagreement as to whether three key approvals granted to the earlier owners were appropriately transferred to the new owners. One is the all-important certificate of need, which is required for all power projects. The second is a site permit, and the third is status as a community-based wind project, which confers certain financial benefits.
New Era Wind now has two weeks to either surrender its site permit or show the PUC it will begin construction by Aug. 23. A further complication is that the project needs to complete an approved plan to protect birds and bats from the windmills, before it can start construction. If New Era Wind fails to do either, the PUC says it will revoke the permit.
Critics of the wind project could not be reached in time for this story.