Legal proceedings are already threatening the largest wind project planned in America. Kenetech Windpower, which lost its bid to build 100 MW in Minnesota for Northern States Power (NSP), is asking the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to investigate NSP's selection of Zond Systems. Meanwhile, NSP in late July sued Kenetech in state court for the wind rights Kenetech holds on Buffalo Ridge, where the project is to be built. Kenetech -- which built the first 25 MW phase of development on the ridge -- is questioning NSP's use of "eminent domain" (compulsory purchase of land) to secure the wind rights. In its filing with the PUC Kenetech questions Zond's untried Z-46 design, though Kenetech also bid with a machine not yet in commercial production. Furthermore, Kenetech says Zond may not meet the contract time frame, which could delay future phases of NSP wind construction -- phases Kenetech says it hopes to build. Comments on Kenetech's request for an investigation must be filed to the PUC by August 10 and comments in response to these filed by August 21. By questioning NSP's use of eminent domain -- traditionally used by utilities when constructing, say, power lines -- Kenetech is touching on a highly sensitive issue in Minnesota since the siting of a controversial power line in the 1970s (Windpower Monthly, October 1994). Kenetech's Bud Grebey says the company intends to build where it has wind rights on Buffalo Ridge and, in a deregulated market, NSP should not have a monopoly on buying that power. The suit filed by NSP is routine when eminent domain is enforced and is usually quickly resolved. But Kenetech wants the suit moved to federal court as it says eminent domain for wind rights has broader -- and possibly constitutional -- implications. "Eminent domain will likely result in lengthy litigation," warns Grebey. Kenetech is already suing a US firm, New World Power Corp, and a German wind turbine manufacturer, Enercon, over alleged patent infringement (Windpower Monthly, March 1995). A wind watcher comments wearily, "It's no different than it was in the 1980sÉ the lawyers are the only ones making money in the business."
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Senior Renewable Energy Analyst (WindGEMINI Product Lead) DNV GL Bristol (City Centre), City of Bristol