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FERC rejects citizens group’s accusations of wind power developer gaming QF rules

Finding that Wasatch Wind Intermountain LLC’s Pioneer Wind Park I and Pioneer Wind Park II were properly classified as separate facilities, FERC recently refused the Northern Laramie Range Alliance’s request that the agency reject the company’s qualifying facility self-certifications for those facilities.

The NLRA, a nonprofit citizens group based in Casper, Wyo., had argued that what Wasatch was calling two small power production facilities with a net capacity of approximately 48.6 MW each really comprise just one larger facility that exceeds the size limitation for a small power production QF.

FERC disagreed, however, concluding that Wind Park I and Wind Park II indeed are appropriately considered separate facilities solely because they are located more than a mile apart. In fact, the commission noted, the generating equipment of the two facilities are 2.5 miles apart.

“Contrary to petitioners’ characterization of our regulations, the commission does not consider the one-mile rule to be a rebuttable presumption,” FERC said in its March 15 order.

In a July 2011 complaint, NLRA told FERC that Wasatch repeatedly has referred to its Converse County, Wyo., project as being a single wind farm “of approximately 100 MW,” yet the company in September 2010 submitted to FERC separate self-certifications for two smaller facilities. According to the group, Wasatch did so to take advantage of a Wyoming state law that requires PacifiCorp subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power Inc. to purchase up to 50-MW blocks of power from qualifying facilities via fixed-price, long-term (20-year) contracts.

While the NLRA acknowledged that a single project can be considered two separate facilities under some circumstances, such as when facilities are separated by a distance of more than 1 mile, the group insisted that any presumption of separateness can be rebutted when other facts indicate that gaming is involved. The NLRA accordingly attempted to rebut that presumption by noting, among other things, that Wind Park I and Wind Park II will have a single transmission collector line running to a single point of interconnection.

Dismissing the complaint, FERC recounted that to be eligible for QF status, a small power production facility must meet certain fuel-use and size criteria: its primary fuel source must be biomass, waste, renewable resources, geothermal resources or a combination thereof, and it must have a generating capacity of no more than 80 MW.

To determine a facility’s capacity, the commission sums the capacity of all power production facilities that use the same energy resource, are owned by the same entity or affiliated entities, and are located at the same site – i.e., within 1 mile of each other.

In this case, FERC said, there is no question that Wind Park I and Wind Park II satisfy the fuel use criteria. As for the size criteria, the commission said the wind parks’ eligibility for QF status rests on the distance between the facilities since they use the same energy resource and each is owned by Wasatch.

The agency determined that Wind Park I and Wind Park II indeed are eligible for QF status, clarifying that its 1-mile rule “establishes a standard and not a rebuttable presumption.” While FERC acknowledged that the facilities will use the same single line to deliver power to the grid, it said that fact “is not part of the analysis the commission uses in determining whether the one-mile rule has been violated.” (EL11-51)