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2013 top stories: #7 - Goodhue County wind project bows out

After years of research and public testimony, citizens groups opposing a 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County declared victory after the developer chose to abandon the controversial project this fall.

The writing on the wall for the doomed New Era Wind project started to become clear Feb. 28 when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to reopen discussion of the project’s certificate of need.

A four-year regulatory battle spearheaded by the Coalition for Sensible Siting and Goodhue Wind Truth delayed the wind farm’s construction, while creating doubt that it still constituted a Community-Based Energy Development project.

As the PUC scheduled a hearing on the matter, New Era indicated that it was looking to reassign purchasing agreements with Xcel Energy — which had entered into a couple 20-year contracts to buy power generated by the wind farm — to other energy projects in the state.

Xcel Energy rejected the plan and gave notice that it would begin the process of terminating the agreements unless construction got under way by mid-May. New Era did not respond to the request, prompting the utility to move ahead with ending the contracts.

Meanwhile, the PUC voted unanimously to revoke New Era’s certificate at a public hearing in June. The commission said it was no longer confident New Era could complete the project, including getting approval for a plan to protect bird and bat species from flying into turbine blades.

“The credibility of the citizens far outweighed what the developer brought forward,” Goodhue Wind Truth cofounder Marie McNamera said following the vote.

The PUC’s decision was the latest in a long line of New Era’s woes, which also included a lawsuit filed by Xcel Energy June 14. The utility announced it would seek a court order declaring that it was justified in ending its purchasing agreements with the project.

The suit also alleged that New Era did not get the required approval from Xcel Energy when original project owner T. Boone Pickens sold his stake in the wind farm to developer Peter Mastic in October 2012.

By July, New Era had agreed voluntarily to end its purchasing agreements with Xcel Energy.

In a letter dated Sept. 6, Mastic then informed the PUC that New Era had decided to put an end the project.

The PUC voted unanimously to accept the request and terminated New Era’s site permit at a meeting Oct. 10. The decision was the final nail in the coffin for the $180-million project.

A group of wind farm opponents were on hand at a Goodhue County Board meeting Dec. 5

to watch as commissioners

approved a motion revoking

all remaining local

resolutions and permits

related to New Era Wind.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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