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United States

Pickens may drop troubled wind deal

UNITED STATES: An expanding list of problems plaguing a 78MW southern Minnesota wind development backed by T Boone Pickens has spawned reports that the billionaire Texas oil tycoon may be attempting to sell out of the $180 million deal.

The AWA Goodhue project has been seeking state approval since 2008 - dividing Goodhue County opinion over turbine setback distances, road-use agreements, wildlife protection, permitting issues and disputed contracts. In late April, developer AWA Goodhue Wind filed a lawsuit against a handful of landowners, alleging illegal termination of their leases.

Then in mid-May, Dan Schleck, a lawyer representing the Coalition for Sensible Siting (CSS), a citizens group opposed to the development, issued a press release describing a private meeting of local investors who believe that Pickens wants out of the project.

"This is one of the more populated areas of the state where somebody's tried to site a project, and I think that's really what the challenge is here," Schleck said. "You've got controversy over the regulatory framework and you've got controversy from the local residents. There are just a lot of things piling up against this project."

Neither AWA Goodhue Wind nor Mesa Power responded to requests for comment regarding the project. But when asked about wind power during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe TV show, Pickens responded with a common American expression for deals gone wrong: "I've lost my ass in the business."

Goodhue County initially seemed an ideal location because of nearby transmission lines and a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Xcel Energy. But as developers race to build the project before the lucrative federal production tax credit expires at the end of the year, problems persist.

A first permit

The project still needs approval of its avian and bat protection plan, along with an incidental-take permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that allows a specific number of bald eagle mortalities - and no such permission has yet been granted to a US wind farm. Developers also need to secure turbine setback agreements and a favourable ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals to uphold a contested site permit.

According to CSS president Steve Groth, the $100 million lawsuit filed against some landowners is a strong-arm attempt to get a second set of signatures because initial contracts were incomplete. "Without those landowners onboard, they wouldn't be able to do this project," Groth said. "So they're trying to apply pressure to get them to cave in."

Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital, infused the project with financial backing in 2010, along with wind turbines made available when his giant-sized Texas project fizzled. That project called for 667 GE 1.5MW turbines and Pickens managed to halve the order - leaving 334 machines without a home. BP Capital subsidiary Mesa Power announced plans earlier this year to use many of the turbines in the 377MW Stephens Bor-Lynn development south of Lubbock, Texas. But the project, scheduled for 2013 completion, still has no PPA in place.

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