A Toole County District Court judge granted a temporary restraining order Monday preventing San Diego Gas & Electric from refusing to make payments to Montana wind farm operator NaturEner pending the resolution of a contract dispute.
District Judge Brenda Gilbert issued the order Monday. Gilbert also set a date of Feb. 14 for a hearing on the larger contract dispute.
The court assigned the case to Gilbert after SDG&E asked for a substitute judge.
NaturEner owns the 189-megawatt Rim Rock Wind farm in Glacier and Toole counties. SDG&E began purchasing power from the wind farm 16 months ago under a 20-year power purchase agreement.
SDG&E also agreed to invest $300 million in the project.
In December, NaturEner filed a lawsuit in Toole County against SDG&E, alleging breach of contract, after SDG&E, a regulated utility, filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court seeking to terminate the contract.
SDG&E’s California lawsuit alleges that NaturEner has not met its obligations in the contract to protect raptors and misrepresented the threat of the wind farm to birds.
NaturEner, which denies those charges, is arguing that it pledged its assets to Morgan Stanley as collateral for a construction loan, which it says it received because of the promise of SDG&E’s equity investment. If the payment is not made, NaturEner says, Morgan Stanley could foreclose on the assets. It also argues the agreed-upon purchase price in the power purchase agreement is essential to the viability of the Rim Rock.
A delay in granting the motion by NaturEner for a temporary restraining order would result “in great or irreparable harm to the plaintiffs,” Gilbert wrote in the order.
The order prevents SDG&E from terminating its payments under the Jan. 6, 2012, contract agreements “for the purpose of preserving the status quo pending a hearing.”
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