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Utility alleges fraud in Montana wind farm deal

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 31, 2014 at 5:16 pm •  Published: March 31, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A California utility that invested in a Montana wind farm has accused the developer of fraudulently concealing that federal wildlife officials recommended the project get a permit in case it harms eagles.

San Diego Gas & Electric and a subsidiary of Spanish wind developer NaturEner filed dueling lawsuits in California and Montana stemming from a dispute over the wind farm near Cut Bank.

At issue is whether NaturEner followed through on contractual obligations to protect eagles and other birds that nest near the 126-turbine Rim Rock wind farm.

NaturEner spokesman Patrick Ferguson on Monday rejected the fraud allegation.

SDG&E said in court documents filed Friday in California Superior Court that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended NaturEner get a wildlife "take permit" so the company would not be in violation of federal law if any birds were killed at Rim Rock.

Passages of emails between federal officials in which they discuss the need for a permit were submitted to back the claim. The utility's lawyers said NaturEner concealed such information to induce SDG&E to invest $285 million in Rim Rock and buy renewable energy tax credits under a power purchase agreement.

"NaturEner concealed and intentionally omitted information," SDG&E attorney J. Michael Hennigan wrote. He added that NaturEner "acquired SDG&E money, and caused SDG&E to incur expenses, through its unfair and fraudulent business practices."

NaturEner's Ferguson said the allegation was an attempt to "divert from what we think their real motive is, which is breaking the contract."

SDG&E has suffered from buyer's remorse, Ferguson said, as prices have fallen for the renewable energy credits the utility was obligated to purchase under its contract.

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