Minnesota PUC mulls whether to extend, or kill, approvals for 201-MW wind project

At its Sept. 17 meeting, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will be looking at whether to extend approvals for the Flat Hill Windpark I project, or whether to revoke those approvals.

Flat Hill Windpark I is a 201-MW wind facility proposed to be located in Clay County, approximately 12 miles northeast of Moorhead, Minnesota. Commission staff said in a Sept. 10 briefing memo that the project was originally proposed by Noble Flat Hill Windpark I LLC. In February 2010, the Commission issued three orders which granted Flat Hill: a certificate of need, a route permit, and a site permit.

In March 2010, Radio Fargo-Moorhead Inc. (RFM), a landowner within the project site boundary, filed petitions for Writ of Certiorari with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, appealing the commission’s grant of the site and route permits. RFM based its appeal on its claims that it was not properly notified of the project and that RFM’s radio tower was not considered in the development of the records or in the final route and site permit decisions. The court discharged the writs and appeals and remanded the matter back to the commission.

Through negotiations, Flat Hill and RFM reached a settlement resolving all issues raised in the RFM petition. In May 2011, the commission affirmed the permits without modification, with the exception of authorizing a ‘new’ two year period in which Flat Hill would have to commence construction and obtain a power purchase agreement (PPA) – extending the time authorized to May 2013.

Noble Flat Hill Wind Park I was acquired by Quantum Utility Generation LLC from Noble Environmental Power LLC in 2011. The Noble Flat Hill Windpark was renamed Flat Hill Windpark I in 2011 following the Quantum Wind acquisition.

In April 2013, Flat Hill filed petitions (second extension) to extend the time authorized in the certificate of need, route permit, and site permit dockets. Flat Hill cited issues related to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) queue and the RFM appeal that caused delays. In August 2013, the commission extended the time to obtain a PPA and construct the project. The certificate of need was extended to December 2015 (per the permittee’s request), the site permit was extended to Aug. 27, 2015 (using the standard two year wind permit condition) and the route permit was extended to Aug. 27, 2017 (using the standard four year transmission line permit condition).

On July 15 of this year, Flat Hill Windpark I filed petitions (third extension) to extend the time authorized to commence construction in the certificate of need and site permit dockets. Flat Hill cited issues related to the earlier MISO issues and RFM appeal and more recently, challenges due to downturn in the wind power market, uncertainty regarding the federal production tax credit (PTC), and the timing (post-RFM appeal) that Flat Hill entered the wind market.

Flat Hill requested that the certificate of need in-service date be extended to December 2017 without additional hearings or recertification. Flat Hill also requested that the commission amend the site permit so that Flat Hill would have an additional two years to obtain a PPA and commence construction from the date of the amended permit.

“Flat Hill acknowledged that the Commission has not typically granted an extension of this length for other projects – however, Flat Hill argued that in those instances the project proposer allowed the extended permit deadline to pass without action and/or provided notice to the Commission that the conditions would not have been met and requested revocation,” said the Sept. 10 staff memo. “Here, Flat Hill argued, revocation is not warranted as Flat Hill has filed a timely request for extension and actively is pursuing development of the project. Notably, Flat Hill provided that it will not make additional requests for extension or modifications (beyond the request before the Commission at this time) unless it has obtained an executed PPA or other enforceable mechanism in the next two years.”

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.