Minnesota commission takes a pregnant pause in wind farm case

Due to the impending birth of a child, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has pulled from the agenda for its June 20 meeting consideration of approvals being sought by Flat Hill Windpark I LLC for a 201-MW project in Clay County.

In a June 11 filing at the commission, Flat Hill asked that its case be removed from the June 20 agenda. The commission on June 13 pulled it from the agenda and said it would likely be re-scheduled for late July.

“While Flat Hill appreciates the speed at which the Department [of Commerce] and Commission Staff brought the matters raised in Flat Hill’s petitions before the Commission, Mr. Mike Beckner, the lead developer for the Flat Hill Project, is expecting the birth of his child in the next few weeks,” said the company in the June 11 filing. “As a result, Mr. Beckner is currently avoiding traveling from his home in Connecticut and is unavailable for the June 20 Commission meeting.”

Flat Hill in the June 11 filing also addressed three citizen comments about the project. “In the present case, three brief Public Comments were submitted opposing extensions of the deadlines under which Flat Hill must begin construction and secure an off-take arrangement for the output of its Project as reflected in the Amended Site and Route Permits,” the company noted. “Flat Hill respectfully disagrees that the concerns expressed in these comments establish a basis upon which to reject the Petitions.”

As Flat Hill explained previously to the commission, the company sought extensions of the deadlines under which it must begin construction and secure an off-take arrangement due to delays in the interconnection process, which made it unfeasible for the project to commit to an off-take arrangement or finalize project financing, the company noted. “Notwithstanding these delays, Flat Hill continues to believe there is a demand for renewable energy from the Flat Hill project as evidenced by Minnesota Power and Xcel Energy’s recent RFPs for wind resources seeking up to 400 megawatts of new wind generation resources.”

Flat Hill added: “With respect to the cost of wind energy and any associated tax concerns, Flat Hill believes that due to robust competition in Minnesota, wind pricing has never been more advantageous for consumers. In addition, it should also be recognized that Minnesota has made the public policy determination that renewable energy should be a significant part of the State’s energy portfolio. While the commenters can certainly disagree with the State’s policy (and the availability of Federal tax incentives), that policy debate is more appropriate for the Legislature.”

In February 2010, the commission issued a Certificate of Need to Noble Flat Hill I LLC, now known following a name change as Flat Hill Windpark I LLC, for a 201-MW project. The proposed in-service date for the project was originally December 2010. The company wants the commission to accept a change in the in-service date for the project to December 2015 without it having to go through a new recertification process.

The company said in an April 4 filing that delays in the Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator’s (MISO) processing of Flat Hill’s interconnection request made meeting the project’s initial planned in-service date impossible. The project, MISO Project Number G821, entered the MISO queue in July 2007. Since then, Flat Hill has been “transitioned” to new generator interconnection processes twice, illustrating fundamental problems with the MISO interconnection process that are entirely beyond Flat Hill’s control, the company said. It noted that even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has cited MISO’s problems with the queue.

Another problem that caused delays had been now-resolved appeals of the commission’s approvals for this project, the company added.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.