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Wind farm without buyer gets North Dakota go-ahead

Wind developer EnXco won approval Wednesday from North Dakota regulators to build its latest 150-turbine wind farm in that state.

But the company still doesn’t have a customer for the Merricourt Wind Project. Intended buyer Xcel Energy dropped out in April, citing issues with protecting two endangered birds.

EnXco President and CEO Tristan Grimbert said in an interview that his company still wants to build the project with Xcel’s participation even though the two are suing each other over the termination. He said the project could be completed this year.

“A lot of the issues that Xcel raised in the termination have been dealt with,” Grimbert said.

On one key issue, EnXco now has an agreement with U.S. wildlife officials on how to protect the piping plover and whooping crane, he said.

Grimbert said EnXco would be willing to talk to Xcel about reducing the $400 million price tag, recognizing that the cost of wind power has declined in the past three years.

If the project isn’t built, he said, EnXco faces a significant loss because it has committed to buy 100 turbines from General Electric.

He said that EnXco needs decide in the next few weeks whether to move ahead without Xcel’s participation. Going alone would mean further costs and risks, and Grimbert characterized it as “possible, but unlikely.” No other utility is ready to step into the project, and such deals usually take a couple of years to negotiate, he said.

Xcel, in a statement, said the company had the right to terminate the Merricourt deal over issues that included its potential effect on protected wildlife and the resulting cost and uncertainty. Xcel said those concerns “remain unresolved” and its actions have been in the best interests of customers.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved a certificate of site compatibility, the final step in the approval process, at a meeting Wednesday.