Plug Pulled on EcoHarmony Wind Project in Fillmore County, Minn.

The 280-megawatt project would have been the largest wind development in Minnesota's history.

by Brett Boese, McClatchy News Service / December 26, 2013


A third major wind project in southeastern Minnesota has ceased development after years of planning and controversy.

The EcoHarmony wind project sited near the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in Fillmore County received its permits in February 2010 from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. While construction costs were never made public, the 280-megawatt project would have been the largest wind development in state history.

However, the project layout was overhauled in early 2013, shrinking to 116 megawatts by Gamesa Technology Corp., the new owner, after being classified as a high-risk site amidst criticism from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and some citizens.

The company's plans changed again this fall when Gamesa notified local project participants that the project was dead, according to an Oct. 23 letter recently obtained by the Post-Bulletin.

"I am writing to let you know that based on our analysis of current economic and energy market conditions, Gamesa has concluded that the development of the Harmony Wind project in not commercially viable," wrote Gamesa Project Manager Bill Smeaton. "This was a difficult decision given the promising fundamentals of the project.

"We are disappointed that market dynamics do not allow us to deliver on our vision of a clean energy project benefiting Harmony and the surrounding communities."

Smeaton has not responded to an emailed request for comment sent Nov. 27, and several calls to Gamesa have not been returned.

Gamesa's Oct. 23 letter to participants says it intends to file a termination letter with Fillmore County during the fourth quarter, but the county administrator said nothing has been received as of early Dec. Likewise, the PUC docket hasn't been updated since May 2013 and a PUC spokesperson was unaware of any changes to the project when contacted earlier this month.

The EcoHarmony project appears to be following in the footsteps of two other failed wind projects in the area. Developers spent more than $15 million seeking to obtain permits for the controversial $180 million, 78 megawatt New Era wind project sited near Zumbrota before calling it quits in September. The $500 million High Country wind project proposed in Olmsted, Dodge and Mower counties ceased development in October 2013.

The three projects — produced by three separate entities — were terminated within 35 days of each other. A review of other proposed wind developments around the state shows that the PUC has begun issuing notices of termination to projects that received permits but have not started construction.

Those decisions may be a reflection of the larger national debate on wind power. The U.S. Congress extended wind's production tax credit at the last moment in 2013, over Republican protests, but it's scheduled to expire on Jan. 1, with no clear indication of what the future holds.