A partner in a canceled North Dakota wind project and state regulators are questioning a Minnesota utility’s surprise decision to pull out.
Xcel Energy said in a regulatory filing April 1 that it would abandon the Merricourt wind project, planned for completion this year, citing concern about its impact on endangered species. The project was announced in 2008 and was being carried out by partner company enXco, which would build the wind farm and turn it over to Xcel.
The decision to scrap the project apparently came as a surprise to enXco. Its parent company, EDF Energies Nouvelles of France, issued a statement Tuesday that disputed Xcel’s reasons. It said that enXco would continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate threats to endangered species and that it had addressed any problems Xcel had in complying with the Endangered Species Act.
“For these reasons, enXco disputes the relevance and materiality of these concerns to (Xcel’s) obligations under the parties’ agreements,” the statement said.
Jeffrey Towner of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s North Dakota field office said he had been in contact with enXco Tuesday and that the company planned to go ahead with the project. He said it was completing the habitat and species protection plans required for a permit from the agency.
“That’s the process we’ve been in with enXco so far, and based on conversations we had with enXco, they plan to continue that process,” Towner said. “We’re certainly willing to work with the company and they’re certainly willing to work with us.”
During the approval process for the wind farm, Towner’s office had deemed it a potential threat to whooping cranes and piping plovers.
EnXco could continue with the project with a new partner company or with Xcel, depending on how it would pursue its dispute over Xcel’s reasons for canceling the wind farm. Company spokeswoman Sandi Briner said she did not know enXco’s legal options in the dispute.
The project was to cost $400 million. It would have a generation capacity of 150 megawatts and consist of 100 wind towers. It would have occupied parts of McIntosh and Dickey counties.
North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk said the commissioners would discuss Xcel’s announcement in their meeting Wednesday and would likely ask the parties involved for further explanation. He said similar wind developments affecting endangered species had been approved after the developers provided Fish and Wildlife with the required plans to mitigate harm to animals and habitat.
“I don’t see anything different in what the service was asking for in this than in others,” Kalk said. “We’ve done projects that are more difficult than this one.”
Kalk said the project was still valid despite Xcel’s decision to pull out and he questioned Xcel’s announcement pinning its decision on endangered species.
“I don’t like the implication that they’re trying to blame someone,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to wash.”
Commissioner Kevin Cramer said he hoped the site would eventually be developed with Xcel or another company participating.
“Hopefully we can continue to site it because a lot of work has gone into siting it,” he said. “Maybe there will a different business relationship in the end.”
McIntosh County Commissioner Ron Meidinger said the news was “kind of a shocker.”
“We were just entering into various agreements with them,” he said. “It’s funny how these things materialize and fade away.”
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