For the first time in South Dakota, a small wind farm has succeeded in using a federal law to force a utility company to buy electricity produced by the wind farm’s turbines.
The state Public Utilities Commission made its final decisions Tuesday in the battle that Oak Tree Energy brought against NorthWestern Energy.
The family-run wind company is based in Clark County in northeastern South Dakota. Its proposed wind farm is within NorthWestern’s service territory.
Oak Tree Energy attempted in 2010 to negotiate with NorthWestern to buy its power. The utility refused to buy the power, saying the additional electricity wasn’t necessary.
Oak Tree Energy turned to the PUC in April 2011. Oak Tree used a federal law known as the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 as the basis for its complaint.
Four of the family members behind Oak Tree were in the meeting room Tuesday. The scene was similar to two weeks ago as the four Makens – Michael, Bill, Pat and James – silently watched while the three state commissioners negotiated with one another on the final factors setting how much NorthWestern must pay Oak Tree each year.
The commission initially made its decision months ago when it ordered the two sides to reach a contract, but NorthWestern last month convinced the commission to reconsider several points.
Those were resolved Tuesday in several split votes. A key point of difference was whether NorthWestern customers should pay more up front and less in later years over the 20-year life of the deal. Nelson preferred a more level basis.
Hanson responded that he didn’t want to force an injustice on Oak Tree by limiting the company’s ability to get financing for the project.
NorthWestern Energy could appeal the matter to state court but there’s been no indication the utility will take that route.
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