SAINT PAUL – Recommendations from state staff leading up to Thursday’s Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing on the New Era wind project have put the future of the 78-megawatt project in doubt.
Minnesota Department of Commerce staff members released two briefing papers last week that have some local project critics rejoicing. In the documents – one 92 pages and the other 14 pages – staff members recommended taking no action to approve an in-service date extension and ownership change for the project.
Additionally, the staff members recommended reopening the power purchase agreement docket New Era signed with Xcel Energy, ruling that the project is not a community-based energy development (C-BED) and asking the developer to “show cause” why the project’s certificate of need should not be revoked.
If those actions are approved during Thursday’s meeting in St. Paul, the project could be at its end, according to Carol Overland, a Red Wing attorney who represents Goodhue Wind Truth, a group opposing the Zumbrota-area project.
“The PUC tends to take the more passive option rather than outright deny it,” Overland said. “We’d prefer they outright deny it so the uncertainty would be gone.
“In my view, this says the project is dead,” she said.
The second item on Thursday’s agenda involves the project’s avian and bat protection plan and a permit transfer after the change in ownership. PUC staff made no recommendations for those issues; Overland says those are “moot points” if the previous recommendations are adopted.
Calls seeking comment from project owner Peter Mastic this week were not returned. Mastic changed the project name from AWA Goodhue to New Era after becoming the owner and developer in late 2012. Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens had purchased the project from local investors in 2009 and changed the name from Goodhue Wind.
The local wind project has faced an unprecedented permitting process that has stretched more than four years; a typical project is approved in 6-12 months. The New Era project has been tangled in various lawsuits over the years as Goodhue Wind Truth and another opposition group, Coalition for Sensible Siting, have spent six figures fighting the 48-turbine development.
Many of the project’s critics have been critical of the PUC in the past, but some expressed optimism after reading the latest briefings.
“Tricia DeBleekere (of the PUC) outdid herself,” said Kristi Rosenquist, a vocal critic. “As citizens were preparing to speak … we’re feeling like Tricia stole our thunder. She’s pulled almost all the same quotes we did from among the thousands of documents.”
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