“New Era no longer intends to develop a wind energy project in Goodhue County, and respectfully requests that the commission close all four dockets and all pending matters related thereto,” Peter Mastic, chief manager for the New Era Wind Farm LLC, stated in a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on September 5. The PUC posted the announcement on their website on September 17.
This letter officially declared the end of a nearly five-year process to construct a $180 million 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County. Plans called for about 50 wind turbines over 300 feet in diameter to be constructed on an estimated 9,000 acres between Zumbrota, Goodhue and Cannon Falls. The company has stated that thus far about $15 million has already been spent to pursue the project.
The four dockets referred to include the site permit, the certificate of need, an updated avian and bat protection plan, and an eagle conservation plan. The plan to protect wildlife was rejected by the PUC, causing delays in moving forward with the project.
New Era had estimated only one eagle would be killed annually, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated the number would be closer to eight to 15 bald eagles per year. A study released in March estimated that wind farms in the United States kill more than 573,000 birds of all kinds each year. New Era was among the first project groups to seek a federal incidental take permit to kill bald eagles, in order to avoid being fined and/or face federal prosecution for any deaths.
Local opponents argued that substantial bird and bat deaths could upset the balance of nature, forcing farmers to rely more on chemical methods for pest and rodent control.
In a letter to the PUC Mastic said the project had been “more thoroughly studied, surveyed and reported on than any other wind project site in the state of Minnesota.” According to meeting minutes, in June the PUC ordered New Era to either show it would begin construction of the project by August 23 or forfeit its site permit.
Another setback was the loss of their power agreement. Xcel Energy had contracted with New Era to buy power generated at the wind farm. New Era was to create a security fund totaling $5.85 million by August 2010. The fund was never established. Xcel’s suit also noted New Era failed to meet deadlines. The project was to begin construction in 2011.
The wind project originated as AWA Goodhue Wind LLC and initial filings for the project were submitted in October 2008. It was later determined the group’s primary investor was Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. In 2012 the project was sold to Peter Mastic.
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