SAINT PAUL – The development once dubbed “the most troubled” wind project in state history by Minnesota Public Utilities Commission member Betsy Wergin is back under the microscope.
PUC staff posted a four-part information request Thursday for the AWA Goodhue wind project permittee, requiring a response by Oct. 19. It’s an extension of a similar letter sent by the PUC on Sept. 20 that went unanswered.
The biggest question surrounding the $180 million project that has faced a three-plus year permitting process is simple – who’s in charge? It’s a question that hasn’t appeared to have a clear answer for months.
National Wind, the long-time project developer, was purchased by Trishe Energy Group of India in Dec. 2011. However, that wasn’t disclosed to the public until nine months after the fact when a curious PUC filing was made by former National Wind CEO Peter Mastic, who had been let go by Trishe in July.
Mastic’s compliance filing included a contact number for Texas-based Mesa Power Group, but no one at the T. Boone Pickens-owned company had heard of him. The ensuing confusion prompted cries of protest from some citizens and the initial, unanswered, PUC information request of Mastic.
The situation became even more murky this week when Mastic filed paperwork Monday with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of the State appearing to amend the name of the Goodhue County project from AWA Goodhue LLC to New Era Wind Farm LLC, with his own name listed as the project manager.
It’s unclear whether that filing reflects a change of ownership, a change in developer, or both. A legal rep at the Secretary of State’s office says that a “manager” on such filings is typically considered the same as a CEO, but he declined to speculate on the ownership status. The project’s initial name was Goodhue Wind, but it was changed to AWA Goodhue upon Pickens becoming an investor in 2009.
Calls made this week to Mesa Power Group, the presumed owner and developer after National Wind’s buyout, were not returned. Calls to Mastic’s cell phone also went unanswered.
Project critics have already filed two petitions asking the PUC to pull the 78-megawatt project’s conditional site permit based on false or misleading statements that they feel represent permit violations. The ongoing ownership questions could create another avenue to halt the controversial project.
On Tueday, Goodhue County Attorney Steve Betcher will share his legal opinion on the ramifications of rescinding the county’s 2008 resolution of support for the wind project’s status as a lucrative community-based energy development (C-BED) based on ownership issues. Details won’t be made public unless the board votes to release Betcher’s findings, but the idea already has strong support among local officials.
Three Goodhue County townships have sent letters to the county calling for such action, while Goodhue’s city council voted unanimously Wednesday night to do likewise. Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, have all previously been critical of designating the project as C-BED.
Goodhue County commissioners Ron Allen and Ted Seifert have expressed periodic support for rescinding the county’s resolution based on changes made within the project’s ownership structure. None of the other three commissioners have budged to make that opinion a majority, though Allen hopes that will change next week since board chair Richard Samuelson made the request of Betcher.
“C-BED was supposed to be locally owned,” Allen said. “T. Boone Pickens in Texas is not locally owned. If you’re going to do this, it makes sense to have it locally owned and not owned by someone eight states away.”