United States

United States

T. Boone Pickens' new Minnesota wind project hits resistance

US: Earlier this year, billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens halved an order for 667 GE 1.5MW turbines when plans for his $10 billion Texas wind project fell through. Now, 52 of those 334 orphaned machines are likely to find a home at a contentious community-based project in southern Minnesota.

T Boone Pickens: 52 turbines for southern Minnesota
T Boone Pickens: 52 turbines for southern Minnesota

The 78MW Goodhue project, pre-developed by Minnesota-based National Wind, was recently acquired by Mesa Wind -- a renewables arm of the Pickens empire. If all goes as planned, Mesa will finish the project this year under the name of the American Wind Alliance (AWA).

But the project has attracted strong resistance throughout the area. Local opponents have been forming groups to seek half-mile (0.8 km) turbine setbacks, close scrutiny of AWA's 30-page contract and a one-year moratorium on wind projects. Several reportedly contentious meetings have already been held and more are on regional dockets.

National Wind, a community developer with two prior projects and more than 200MW under its belt, remains involved with the Goodhue project and explains away any community resistance as so-called turbine envy.

"Some people might not necessarily get a turbine on their property and they don't want to look at their neighbours' turbines," says Erin Edholm, National Wind's communications director. "That's the issue, essentially."

But longtime advocates of community-based wind power see overall resistance to the Goodhue project as an increasing trend. "More and more projects are going to run into these problems," says long-time community-wind advocate Lisa Daniels, founder of Minnesota-based Windustry, a trade group that champions homegrown development.

"Many of the projects that could be hidden in distant cornfields have been built and all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. That means finding best practices to integrate these projects into rural communities or in areas close to rural communities is increasingly important. Otherwise it pits neighbour against neighbour and that's no good for anybody."

Prior to Mesa's involvement, National Wind had been working to qualify Goodhue for Minnesota's Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) law, which encourages utilities to award contracts to renewable-generation plant operators with at least 51% in-state project ownership and set a higher rate for power during the contract's first ten years.

Mesa Power executive Mark Ward says the project has a power purchase agreement with Minnesota-based Xcel Energy and that C-BED status has now been secured. "We've got more than 50% of the revenues over the lifetime of the project flowing to Minnesota investors, Minnesota-owned businesses," Ward says. "Our structure is not unlike any of the other C-BED projects in Minnesota."

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission gave the Goodhue project its blessing this month. Meanwhile, Mesa and AWA continue to seek other homes for the remaining Pickens turbines - namely, pre-developed projects with power purchase agreements.

"We do have two other projects that we're developing in the US -- one in Missouri and one in Michigan," Ward says. "And then we have two to four projects that we're developing in Ontario, Canada. We continue to look at opportunities on a daily basis and we're being selective on projects that we think we can finance. And we're still looking for investors."

 

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