Updated: 09/17/2013 11:18 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen
Developers have formally abandoned their plans to build a $180 million wind farm in southeastern Minnesota that drew strong citizen opposition because of the threat it posed to eagles and bats, according to a regulatory filing Tuesday.
New Era Wind Farm LLC told the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in a letter dated Sept. 6 that it "no longer intends to develop a wind energy project in Goodhue County" and asked the commission to close all pending matters related to the project. Commission spokesman Dan Wolf said it would likely do so next month.
New Era wanted to build a 78-megawatt, 48-turbine wind farm near Zumbrota, but was unable to overcome the opposition of local activists, several regulatory obstacles and issues with Xcel Energy Inc., which canceled its agreement to buy power from the wind farm.
Opponents of New Era said they believed the project was all but dead for several months, but they were cheered by Tuesday's filing.
"For a long time people saw that this project kept rising from the dead and rising from the dead. And every time we thought it was dead it came back. It's nice to have the final death certificate," said Kristi Rosenquist, of Mazeppa.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had estimated that New Era's wind turbines could kill as many as eight to 15 bald eagles per year in a worst-case scenario. The company's estimate was one eagle annually.
New Era was among the first projects to seek a federal permit that would have allowed the legal killing of a limited number of eagles per year. A study published by government biologists last week concluded that wind energy facilities nationwide have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles over the past five years, mostly in western states, but that the figure could be much higher. A March study estimated that U.S. wind farms kill more than 573,000 birds of all kinds every year.
Mary Hartman, a Rochester resident who opposed the project, said the anticipated bird and bats deaths could have upset the balance of nature and forced area farmers to rely more heavily on chemicals to control pests.
"This project was not exceptional. This project was not exceptionally bad. There are many wind projects in this state that pose a more significant threat to sustainability and wildlife than the New Era project. They just haven't gotten the public attention and participation on the local level that we saw in Goodhue County," she said.
New Era's chief manager, Peter Mastic, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. The company told the PUC this summer that it had spent over $15 million on the project.
The four-year-old project originally was known as AWA Goodhue Wind and was led by Texas energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, whose group later sold it to Mastic.
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