Federal judge tosses out GSA power contract for Illinois wind farm project

A federal judge in Illinois on May 22 ruled that the federal General Services Administration should not have categorically exempted a wind project from environmental review and sent the matter back to the GSA to be fixed.

This lawsuit was filed Jan. 16 at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois by several local land owners and renters. On May 7, this matter came before the court for a hearing on a motion to dismiss from defendants Geronimo Wind Energy LLC, MG2 Tribal Energy LLC and Walnut Ridge Wind LLC, and also the General Services Administration, which is another defendant in the case. During the hearing, the court stated that it would enter a written order denying the motions to dismiss. The court further stated that its order would memorialize its finding that GSA’s determination that its proposed purchase of wind power and accompanying renewable energy certificates from the companies did not qualify for an automatic categorical exclusion pursuant to Section 5.3(r) of the Public Building Service National Environmental Policy Desk Guide. That finding was officially issued in order form on May 22.

The proposed wind farm is slated to include 123 wind turbine generators and related facilities on agricultural land encompassing approximately 14,500 acres in Bureau County, Illinois. The complaint alleges that Walnut Ridge Wind was formed for the purpose of developing and constructing a utility-grade wind farm in Bureau County. Geronimo Wind Energy acquired Walnut Ridge Wind in 2013. Geronimo Wind Energy formed MG2 with the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians in order to develop the wind project while taking advantage of a preference included federal code.

In September 2014, GSA entered into a ten-year Power Purchase Agreement with MG2 to purchase electricity generated by the wind power facility. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants, specifically, GSA, violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to undertake an environmental analysis or an environmental impact statement prior to entering into the Power Purchase Agreement with MG2. The complaint specifically sought a finding from this court that GSA violated NEPA, and for the court to direct GSA to complete an Environment Impact Statement related to the wind power facility. Plaintiffs further requested that the court order GSA and MG2 to cease and desist from reliance upon the Power Purchase Agreement and enjoin GWE and WRW from proceeding with any further development, construction or operation of the wind power facility.

Said the May 22 court order from Judge Michael Mihm: “This Court wants to make abundantly clear that the record does not demonstrate that this Walnut Ridge Windfarm has become an irrevocably federal project. The project, of course, could go forward without reliance on the Renewable Energy Contract with GSA. But to the extent the contract remains in place, GSA must adhere to its obligation under NEPA. In that regard, this case is remanded to GSA to further consider whether the decision to enter the Renewable Energy Contract at issue in this case qualifies as a categorical exclusion under GSA regulations and guidelines (and whether any additional action based on that determination is required) and, in the event a categorical exclusion is not found applicable, to determine what additional environmental analysis is required by NEPA. Within 120 days of entry of an order, or within such further time as GSA may reasonably request, GSA will complete the remand process and submit a notice of its completion to the court.

“For reasons stated herein, Court’s finds that GSA’s determination that the proposed purchase of wind-produced electric energy and accompanying renewable energy certificates from MG2 Tribal Energy qualified as an automatic categorical exclusion pursuant to Section 5.3(r) of the Public Building Service National Environmental Policy Desk Guide was arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with the law. This case is remanded back to GSA for further consideration consistent with this Order. This case is now closed.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.