Wind power development in North Dakota and neighboring Great Plains states could face greater siting and operational challenges as the Fish and Wildlife Service gives greater scrutiny to proposed projects' impacts on migratory birds and endangered and threatened species. Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
A decision by Xcel Energy Inc. to scrap a $400 million wind farm project in southeast North Dakota represents the latest and largest casualty in the ongoing battle between renewable energy developers and bird advocacy groups over the siting and operation of large wind farms.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy announced in a filing last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was terminating a contract with enXco Development Corp. to build the Merricourt Wind Project, which was set to begin construction later this year. The 100-turbine project was expected to generate as much as 150 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 60,000 homes.
But the project lost momentum after the Fish and Wildlife Service raised questions about the wind farm's potential adverse impacts on two federally protected birds -- the whooping crane and piping plover -- that annually migrate through the eastern Great Plains, including North Dakota.
Though the wind farm was to be sited on private land and required no federal land-use permits, it remained subject to laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. As part of its negotiations, FWS recommended project planners submit a habitat conservation plan detailing how they would minimize impacts to birds in the area, but such a plan never materialized, according to FWS.