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PUC makes wind farm’s demise official

After years of delays and strong opposition by area residents, a controversial Goodhue County wind farm project has reached its end.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission accepted a request by developer New Era Wind to withdraw a certificate of need extension for the proposed 78-megawatt installation north of Zumbrota, according to an order released Wednesday.

The PUC further voted to revoke New Era’s site permit and close all related dockets.

Originally slated for operation at the end of 2011, the proposed $180 project encountered numerous safety and environmental concerns raised by the public.

Developers spent more than $15 million in a four-year regulatory battle to get the wind farm off the ground, but ultimately failed to receive state approval for a plan to protect avian and bat populations from turbine blades.

Xcel Energy, which agreed to purchase power generated by the wind farm, announced earlier this spring that it intended to terminate its contracts with New Era over the delays.

The utility filed a lawsuit June 14 in Hennepin County to get a court order stating it was justified in ending the agreements.

Both parties later agreed mutually to end the contracts, according to a July 24 letter from Xcel to the PUC.

Peter Mastic, who took ownership of the project from Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens last year, notified the commission in September that New Era would no longer pursue construction of the wind farm, and he asked that the project’s dockets be closed. The PUC discussed the request at a meeting Oct. 10 in St. Paul.

Citizen groups Goodhue Wind Truth and the Coalition for Sensible Siting had been proclaiming the project’s imminent demise for months.

Opponents said they now will ask Goodhue County commissioners to backtrack on a 2008 resolution supporting the wind farm as a Community Based Energy Development, or C-BED, project, as well as to revoke conditional-use permits for related meteorological towers.

The issue could be heard as early as the next County Board meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 5.

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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