August 2, 2015

Sibley Wind project permits to be pulled

By Nancy Madsen | Mankato Free Press | August 1, 2015 |

WINTHROP – Sibley Wind Substation, which had begun utility work for its 10-turbine wind power project, is now asking to withdraw its permits from county and state governments.

“We respectfully request our permit for the Sibley Wind Project be canceled while we work out a solution that will meet everyone’s requirements relating to avian studies on the project,” wrote Steve Estes, president of Star Distributed Energy, in a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission. Star controls Sibley Wind Substation LLC, the project developer.

Estes told The Free Press on Wednesday, “We will withdraw our state permit and we want to sit down with the opposition and try to find a solution to answer their concerns.”

The opposition to the project picked up steam in recent years, focusing on the threat of bird and bat deaths in an effort to stop the project.

Barb Wenninger, another opposition member, said Friday, “When the turbines are up, they harm wildlife, so obviously we’re glad they’re not up.”

She said the opposition can’t control additional wildlife study demands, but that the state Department of Commerce Energy Environmental Review and Analysis unit had suggested and the commission had ordered that the company develop an Avian and Bat Protection Plan consistent with other recent plans submitted by other developers. The Commerce Department also said the bird and bat studies were limited to an eagle population study after the developer had said they would conduct a bird and bat study. The developer was not required to conduct any wildlife surveys to earn its permit, the department said in a recent filing.

The department and the Department of Natural Resources “were under the impression that Sibley had contracted for an avian survey that generally followed the standard for pre-construction avian and bat surveys” laid out by the two departments. The study focused on eagles did not follow those guidelines.

Wenninger said that the opposition was not based on wildlife alone, but also on siting they considered too close to residences and threats to property values. Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, the top signatory on a request to revoke the permit, has told The Free Press that his opposition was based on government subsidies for wind projects.

In the face of these disparate concerns, Estes said, “Hopefully, this will bring them out and they can agree on a point person, so we can get a list of items to address.”

On Wednesday, the company submitted a letter to Sibley County, asking them to terminate county permits and agreements.

are encountering issues with our Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that we are not able to solve in the short term,” Estes wrote.

The project first applied for a construction permit from the state Public Utilities Commission in 2008. The project was planned for an area of about 1,000 acres roughly two miles southwest of Winthrop in Cornish Township.

In May, Estes said that utility work had begun and construction would start imminently.

The 10-turbine project was rated at 20 megawatts, which would actually produce enough electricity to power about 3,800 homes.

Estes said he wants to reach a reasonable compromise with opposition members.

“We have to understand what they’re looking for and show a good-faith effort of doing this,” he said.

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