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Wind farm plan stifled

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission refused to change its mind this week about Black Hills Energy’s request to build a 60-megawatt wind farm in Huerfano County.

The three commissioners – Joshua Epel, Pamela Patton and Glenn Vaad – said Black Hills was using an unrealistic forecast for natural gas prices when it projected that the wind farm could save ratepayers $113 million over 25 years.

The utility, along with its supporters, wanted the commission to reconsider its February ruling against the wind farm plan.

During a two-hour meeting Thursday afternoon, the commissioners repeated their objections, but added other reasons as well in turning away the project.

The PUC has been the target of unhappy Pueblo ratepayers in recent years for approving a series of Black Hills rate increases. And the commission statement after Thursday’s meeting seemed written with those Pueblo ratepayers in mind.

The commissioners claimed the proposed 34-tower wind project could cost as much as $246 million to ratepayers over time – not the $113 million in long-term savings that Black Hills and its supporters, such as Western Resource Advocates, claim.

Epel called the Black Hills estimates “unrealistic.” The commission also said the wind farm request was coming on the heels of the PUC’s “reluctant” decision in December to let Black Hills add a $70 million turbine to its Pueblo Airport Generating Station.

The main issue appeared to be the long-term natural gas price forecast that Black Hills submitted in its the request.

Gwen Farnsworth, an energy analyst for Western Resources, said the Black Hills forecast used the specific model required by the PUC. Instead, the commissioners appeared to rely on a price forecast from Xcel Energy.

Bret Jones, spokesman for the utility, confirmed Farnsworth’s account of the meeting – particularly the debate of gas price forecasts – but said Black Hills wouldn’t have a formal comment until the commissioners release their written decision, which should be coming soon.