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Wind project scrapped on possible threat to bird species

Xcel Energy Inc. (XEL), an electric and gas utility, said Friday it scrapped a North Dakota wind project over the potential harm posed to endangered or threatened bird species.

The Minneapolis-based company was planning to construct the 150-megawatt Merricourt Wind Project to meet renewable portfolio standards in Minnesota.

Xcel has now terminated its agreement with partner enXco Development Corp. to build the $400 million wind farm because of uncertainty over the cost and timing for mitigating the potential environmental impact.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service expressed concern that the wind farm could harm whooping cranes and piping plover birds that are protected by federal law, which was a “major factor” for terminating the agreement, Xcel spokeswoman Patti Nystuen said in an emailed statement.

The wind farm, situated in the southeastern part of North Dakota, was set to begin commercial operations in 2011 but construction had not yet begun, Xcel said. The company “will continue to meet its obligations” under the Minnesota renewable energy standards, Nystuen said.

With the cancellation of the Merricourt project, Xcel expects to spend $2 billion on capital projects this year. The company reaffirmed its 2011 earnings guidance of $1.65-to-$1.75 a share.

EnXco could not be immediately reached for comment. EnXco is an affiliate of EDF Energies Nouvelles (EEN.FR), a 50% owned subsidiary of the EDF Group.

Xcel shares closed up 0.8% Friday at $24.08. The stock is up 13% over the past 12 months.