3/29/2013 10:13:00 AM PUC suspends wind farm permits
By Paul Martin
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has tabled the permits needed for the controversial New Era Wind Farm. In its order dated March 20, the PUC stated "The Commission finds that the circumstances under which it issued the certificate of need to New Era Wind Farm have changed and that further factual clarification and analysis are required to determine whether it should remain in effect." The developers plan to build and operate over 50 large turbines across a 12,000 acre site to the west of Goodhue between Cannon Falls and Zumbrota.
The Commission had been urged to reconsider by Goodhue County, State Reps. Steve Drazkowski and Tim Kelly, Sen. Matt Schmit, and former Sen. John Howe. Numerous area residents had also weighed in. The order goes on to list over 20 questions that need to be answered, then adds that there may be others.
"What Happened to
The central question remains, what has happened to local ownership? Documents now show that the 100% owners are Peter J. Mastic Holdings II, LLC, a Nevada Corporation. Ownership was transferred quietly in 2012 from a Texas corporation, American Wind Alliance, LLC.
Local ownership is the main qualification for Minnesota's favored C-BED status (Community-Based Energy Development). It is this C-BED status that allowed the developers to enter contracts to sell the power generated to Xcel Energy, even if the price is higher than alternative power sources. The new developers, now doing business as New Era Wind Farm, LLC, say that local control will be in place by the time production starts. The PUC's response to that is, "prove it."
The original in-service date of December 31, 2011 has been missed, and New Era have applied to extend the date to the end of 2013 with no further hearings. The PUC now wants to know in detail about financing, and the state of contract negotiations with Xcel. Again, New Era say they are "in active negotiations" with Xcel, but have not submitted details.
"Prove your Wildlife
Studies are Right"
Local residents express serious concerns about the effects on wildlife. Wind turbines are known to cause losses at times among bat and bird populations, including some endangered species. For this reason, studies are required as part of the permitting process. The PUC order notes, "They (local residents) claimed that project consultants on wildlife issues had often undercounted - or failed to count entirely - eagles, bats, loggerhead shrikes, trumpeter swans, and other wildlife. Some claimed there was a history of mistrust and conflict between local residents and the project on wildlife protection issues, land lease issues, and other issues. They claimed that the project was unwilling to commit to following the recommendations of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service." The order directs New Era to prove their findings.
"How Will the
Lastly, the PUC order notes that construction delays, financial problems, and ongoing lawsuits with some of the participating landowners may change not only the date, but the size and area of the project. That opens up a new set of questions, notably what effect there might be on the sale of power to Xcel, and the reliability of the studies concerning effects on wildlife.
The order allows 14 days from March 20 for additional comments, and concludes: "The Commission will then reconvene and determine whether it can make a final decision on the basis of the existing record or must refer the case to the Office of Administrative Hearings (that is, the State Courts) for contested case proceedings for evidentiary development of contested material facts."