The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in on the legality of the process used by state regulators to approve a Minnesota wind farm.
In 2009, two customer groups challenged the Public Service Commission’s decision to grant a permit for Wisconsin Power & Light Co. to build the $460 million Bent Tree Wind Farm in Minnesota to meet Wisconsin’s renewable energy standard.
The project was large enough that it should have been subjected to the same review as other large energy projects, the customer groups said.
A circuit court rejected those arguments, siding with the PSC that large wind farms don’t need an exhaustive review if they are being built out of state. Now the state Appeals Court has decided to put the matter directly before the state Supreme Court rather than issuing its own ruling.
The Wisconsin Citizens’ Utility Board and Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group had objected to the permit, saying the PSC was setting a precedent for other major out-of-state energy projects Wisconsin utilities may propose in the future.
The Appeals Court said it’s important for the state Supreme Court to weigh in, given the conflict between two different sections of the Wisconsin state law.
“It appears to us that the Supreme Court should resolve the legal issue to avoid delays and legal battles over the next large out-of-state project,” a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a decision last week.
Wisconsin Power & Light, along with Milwaukee-based We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay, say the more exhaustive review should not be required for out-of-state projects, and that a lesser review would still protect ratepayers from an unnecessary project.
We Energies said the customer groups’ interpretation is unconstitutional because it would restrict interstate commerce – in this case the sale of electricity across state lines.
But a more exhaustive review could have detected earlier problems experienced at the wind farm because of a weak transmission grid in the area, customer groups said. The PSC penalized the Madison utility last year for failing to disclose the grid congestion problems earlier.
The transmission congestion problems were preventing WP&L from generating as much power as it had first envisioned. In updates on the project this year, Alliant Energy Corp., WP&L’s parent company, said transmission upgrades in the area helped boost the output of the wind farm, exceeding the company’s own projections.
The 200-megawatt wind farm was projected to supply enough power over a year’s time to supply about 50,000 typical homes.
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