More than four years after applying for a state permit – and 16 months after receiving a conditional site permit – the New Era wind project planned near Zumbrota is back under the microscope at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
The PUC opened a public comment period Wednesday for a series of four questions dealing with the 78 megawatt project, which previously was called AWA Goodhue. The queries raise issues that date back to 2008 as the 32,000-acre project continues to face an unprecedented permitting process that has drawn national attention.
Public comments are being accepted through Jan. 25, while the reply comment period closes Feb. 8.
A PUC spokesperson said one of the four questions will be dealt with by the PUC at a future meeting date, likely March or April, while PUC staff will consider the other three before deciding if there’s enough merit for the PUC to discuss changing its earlier decisions. Should the state’s permitting authority find reason to reverse any of its earlier opinions, it could negatively affect the project’s outlook.
The four questions are:
• Could the Commission’s Aug. 23, 2011, need determination for the AWA Goodhue, LLC project have reasonably resulted in a different decision under the criteria listed (in state statute) if the relevant changed circumstances were known at the time of the decision?
• Should New Era Wind Farm LLC request for an in-service date delay to Dec. 31, 2013, be approved without recertification? The PUC will hear this matter this spring.
• Is the equity sale of 100 percent of New Era Wind Farm, LLC (from American Wind Alliance to Peter J. Mastic Holdings II, LLC) acceptable without recertification?
• Do recent project changes, including changes outlined in New Era Wind, LLC’s Dec. 17, 2012, information request response, impact the Community-Based Energy Development status of this project?
Those questions from the state reflect ongoing concerns from project critics; Goodhue Wind Truth and the Coalition for Sensible Siting, two local opposition groups. Reps. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, have routinely questioned New Era’s status as a C-BED project while trying to clarify and tighten the language within the state statute.
In December, Goodhue County asked the state to re-examine whether New Era still qualifies as a C-BED project; the $180 million project has changed hands twice since the county sent the PUC a letter supporting its status as a C-BED project. That lucrative designation forces power companies to buy the created electricity at elevated rates as a way to promote local participation.
Xcel Energy signed a power purchase agreement with the wind project in April 2010, which designated Dec. 31, 2011, as the in-service deadline. Mastic filed paperwork with the PUC two weeks ago requesting an in-service delay to Dec. 31, 2013, without recertification, noting permitting obstacles, especially the project’s hotly debated avian and bat protection plan.
New Era submitted a revised ABPP on Nov. 2, after its initial attempt was rejected by the PUC as insufficient. Public comments on that document are open and runs through Monday, while the reply comment period closes Jan. 28. A PUC hearing is expected to be held 30-45 days later.
The federal tax credit for wind energy was extended last week. It could mean tens of millions for the New Era project over the next decade – if it can begin construction by the end of 2013.
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