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PUC sends Goodhue Wind project back to judge, delays effort

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Thursday sent the AWA Goodhue Wind project back for review by an administrative law judge, delaying the project and possibly jeopardizing its future.

“Yes, I think it puts the project in jeopardy,” said National Wind’s Chuck Burdick, one of the project’s developers. AWA Goodhue’s construction plans were expected to begin in November.

While the company panned the decision, dozens of Goodhue County citizens left the meeting declaring victory.

“I think you could buy Goodhue Wind stock pretty cheap right now,” said Chad Ryan, Belle Creek Township Board chairman.

The five-member PUC heard nearly five hours of testimony with regard to the 78-megawatt project’s certificate of need and final site permit before reaching its decision. The issue was sent back for the state to build a more extensive record with regard to how the commercial wind project would be affected by Goodhue County’s updated wind ordinance, which includes a 10-rotor diameter setback.

The review is expected to take about six months. A last-ditch effort by AWA Goodhue representatives to expedite that process was denied.

AWA Goodhue has a power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy, but the sunset date on the agreement is Dec. 31, 2011. Renegotiating a deal is difficult, according to Burdick, and requires PUC approval. A typical wind project takes six to 12 months to become fully operational, which means AWA Goodhue would likely need to extend the sunset date by at least a few months. The review ordered extends the timeline six more months.

National Wind had also modeled its financial plans on the assumption of receiving a 30 percent cash grant up front from the government. However, construction must begin in 2010 to be eligible for that option.

The delayed timeline means the company will be forced to accept the less lucrative option known as a production tax credit, which company attorney Todd Guerrero characterized as a difference of “millions and millions.