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PUC is in middle again as companies disagree on wind-power price

PIERRE – The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has been asked to resolve another pricing dispute between a wind-power company and an investor-owned utility.

Juhl Energy Inc. is using a 1978 federal law to force NorthWestern Energy to purchase electricity from Juhl Energy’s wind farms.

The projects are in Brule County near Kimball; Aurora County near White Lake; and Davison County near Letcher. All are within NorthWestern Energy’s service territory.

The commission gave its staff authority Wednesday to pay up to $38,000 to an outside consultant to help on the pricing analysis.

Unlike other types of proceedings, Juhl Energy wasn’t required to pay a fee to the commission, when the Pipestone, Minn.-based company filed its complaint against NorthWestern Energy on June 23.

The commission scheduled an evidentiary hearing in the docket for April 11-14, 2017.

Federal regulations require NorthWestern Energy to purchase the electricity that would be produced from the three projects.

The price is supposed to be equal to what the utility would have otherwise paid for the power through its own generation or purchased from another source.

Juhl Energy and NorthWestern Energy disagree on the avoided cost. That is where the consultant would come in for the PUC.

Juhl has calculated $60.70 per megawatt-hour. NorthWestern has calculated $24.35 per megawatt-hour.

Juhl plans nine turbines at Letcher, nine turbines at Kimball and nine turbines at White Lake. Each turbine would generate up to 2.3 megawatts.

The commission handled two similar disputes in the past three years.

In 2014 the commission dismissed a complaint brought by a project promoter against Basin Electric Power Cooperative and five rural electric cooperatives. The PUC doesn’t have legal authority over rates charged by cooperatives in South Dakota.

The commission issued a decision in 2013 on a similar complaint brought by Oak Tree Energy, a private company operating a wind facility in Clark County. NorthWestern Energy paid the price approved by the commission after two years of procedural maneuvers and hearings.