STEWARTVILLE – After years of planning and preliminary development, a second ambitious wind project in southeastern Minnesota has come to an unceremonious end.
The High Country Energy wind project developed by National Wind, a subsidiary of India-based Trishe Renewable Energy Solutions, sent a letter dated Oct. 3 to local landowners and investors notifying them that the $500 million project had been terminated. That information was confirmed Thursday by National Wind Director of Communications Joe Jennings, who declined a request for additional information.
“After extensively dedicated work by our entire development team to bring success to the High Country Energy wind project, I regret to have to inform you that National Wind/Trishe Wind Energy has made the difficult decision to terminate the High Country Energy project,” wrote National Wind and Trishe Wind Energy President Vivek Mittal. “Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to sign on enough contiguous acres necessary for the planned 150 (megawatt) project or to win the broad community support essential to bringing a wind project to successful commercial operation.”
When proposed in 2007, National Wind employees said the project would generate up to 500 megawatts and cover nearly 50 square miles in Olmsted, Dodge and Mower counties, providing enough energy to power at least 87,000 residential homes. Participants and investors include residents from Rochester, Austin, Hayfield, Kasson and Byron.
Earlier this month, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission revoked the site permit for the New Era wind project in Goodhue County, ending an unprecedented five-year permitting battle. More than $15 million was spent trying to secure state and local permits for that project. National Wind was also the developer of that project until late 2012.
Despite the local setbacks, an industry insider says it doesn’t reflect a change in the public’s perception of wind energy.
“This situation is not characteristic of what’shappening in Minnesota,” said Wind on the Wires’ Joe Sullivan, a wind advocate. “The Public Utilities Commission just approved 750 MW of power purchase agreements last week for Xcel Energy. Developers always have a numberof projects in the pipeline and need to make decisions about whether or not topursue them.”
Minnesota is sixth in the country in installed wind capacity, according to Wind on the Wires. A significant amount of money has been invested to reach that point since former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the state’s Renewable Energy Mandate in 2007.
Dodge County officials suggest that the sudden rush of local projects might have played a role in High County’s problem. Melissa Devetter, Dodge County’s zoning administrator, said Thursday that various wind companies secured so many agreements with landowners that it created overlapping easements. Developers were stepping on each other’s toes and making it virtually impossible to build.
“It was kind of patchwork in that area for a long time until some of the companies went away,” Devetter said. “High Country came in to try to renew or pick up some of those easements a couple months ago, but that’s the last we’ve heard from them.”
National Wind initially targeted 2009 for construction. That target date was then adjusted to 2011. In an Oct. 2012 press release, National Wind said that PUC permits would likely be approved in the second quarter of 2013 – but a permit request was never officially filed.
As the delays mounted, the project also shrunk in size. Initial projections of a massive 500 MW project were turned into two, 150 MW sites near Mantorville (North) and Hayfield (South).
National Wind has closed its Stewartville office. Paperwork will also be filed with the appropriate counties to remove land encumbrances, along with “making all payments due to landowners under their leases in due course,” according to the Oct. 3 letter.
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