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Sibley Wind asks for permits to be pulled; Cites avian issue

WINTHROP – The president of Sibley Wind Substation, LLC, has asked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to cancel its project permit while it works on avian issues.

In a letter dated July 29, 2015 to the MPUC, Sibley Wind President Steven G. Estes asked that the 20 mW large wind energy conversion system proposed in Cornish Township, about 2 miles southwest of Winthrop, “be cancelled while we work out a solution that will meet everyone’s requirements relating to avian studies. We do feel that the avian issue was something beyond our control and is a forced majeure (greater force) event.”

Estes further explained in that the letter that Sibley Wind Substation understands that it will need to seek a new site permit in order to proceed with the project.

In a letter to Sibley County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Pinske, dated the same day and in response to a Notice of Default signed a day earlier by Pinske on behalf of the Sibley County Board of Commissioners, Estes wrote “we are encountering issues with our Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that we are not able to solve in the short term. Therefore, we have formally requested the State of Minnesota to terminate our state construction permit, and we request Sibley County also terminate all of the county permits and agreements for this project.”

By a 4-1 vote on July 28, Sibley County commissioners authorized Pinske to sign the 30-day Notice of Default for Sibley Wind Substation.

Public project opposition grew in recent years over claims of permit violations including the threat of bird, bat and bee impacts, turbine setbacks, noise, underground substation stray voltage, distribution line interference with telecommunications systems, county road agreement concerns, lack of construction progress, failure to comply with government authorization or requirements, unauthorized project changes and questions about the project’s community-based energy status (C-BED), according to MPUC documents.

Local comments filed against the project included the presence of eagle nests within 10 miles of the project, the lack of data on potential wildlife impacts, particularly related to avian and bat impacts, for the project.

On Dec. 2, 2014, Mary Hartman filed comments, recommending the project be amended to require the development of a bird and bat conservation survey and acoustical bat monitoring protocols.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce (DOC) Energy Environmental Review of Analysis (EERA) filed a staff comment that it did not believe the record supports allegations that Sibley Wind violated permit terms regarding permit transfer, project changes without Commission approval; failure to obtain, maintain or comply with necessary local, state and federal permits; failure to comply with Cornish Township environmental review rules; or failure to meet statutory permit update and environmental submittal requirements.

Sibley Wind said that it conducted additional and voluntary studies of potential avian risks in the spring and fall of 2014.