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PSC approves Glacier Hills without Invenergy agreement

By Paul Snyder

We Energies can build the 90-turbine Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County without a requirement to buy power from Chicago-based Invenergy LLC.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Monday approved the We Energies’ proposal, expected to be the largest wind farm in state history. Commissioners denied a request by Invenergy that the project only be approved if We Energies agrees to also buy power from Invenergy’s yet-to-be-built, 100-turbine farm near Green Bay.

The Chicago firm last year filed as an intervener in the PSC review of Glacier Hills to help finance the Ledge Wind Farm proposal. Invenergy argued an agreement to buy power from Ledge could generate money for the project and help We Energies advance toward its state-set goal of generating 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

The three commissioners Monday said Invenergy was trying to get a fair shake for its project. However, the PSC review of Ledge might not end until much later this year, and commissioners agreed there is an obvious timing problem.

“We’re not here to negotiate or set terms,” said Commissioner Mark Meyer. “The Invenergy project is not something that’s real yet.”

Mark Leaman, Invenergy’s senior vice president, said after Monday’s meeting that he is disappointed by the decision.

“There wasn’t a level playing field this time around,” he said. “(We Energies) did not put out a request for proposals for power purchasing, and the only way for us to get into the discussion was by filing as an intervener.”

However, Leaman said, he was reassured by the commissioners’ discussion about requiring utilities to put out RFPs for long-term purchased-power agreements as part of proposing future projects.

PSC Chairman Eric Callisto said Invenergy’s request sparked important debate about purchased power.

A state administrative rule requires utilities consider purchased-power agreements as an alternative to building new power plants. However, Callisto said, he wants to discuss refining the RFP process to include an analysis of how much renewable power is needed to meet state goals as well as a third-party analysis of associated agreement costs and evaluations of agreements extending beyond 20 years.

The commissioners Monday declined to agree on any of those terms, but will discuss them in the next week. The details are expected next week when the PSC issues its final report on Glacier Hills.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said the decision will not stop the company from talking about future agreements with Invenergy.

Invenergy, meanwhile, is discussing agreements with other utilities to try to finance Ledge’s construction. Leaman would not provide the names of those utilities or the project’s price tag, but said the company will continue trying to acquire state approvals.

“We won’t start construction until we have a power sales contract,” he said. “But (We Energies) and other utilities will need renewable energy in the future. Today’s decision won’t stop us moving forward.”

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PSC’s final order expected next week

We Energies got an initial green light for its proposed 90-turbine wind farm, but a final order to build will not be issued until next week.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin on Monday approved the utility’s proposal to build the Glacier Hills Wind Park in the towns of Randolph and Scott. However, commissioners said they want 10 more days to discuss project details, including turbine placement and whether the PSC should require utilities request proposals for purchased-power agreements from electricity providers.

PSC spokeswoman Teresa Weidemann-Smith said commissioners want to iron out those details for the final report, which is expected Jan. 22. She said the commissioners’ approval likely will not change.

“The project is a go,” Weidemann-Smith said.

But We Energies also has to review some of the commissioners’ suggestions, such as requiring 1,250-foot setbacks instead of the utility’s proposed 1,000-foot setbacks from buildings. If the changes go through, the utility might have to reduce the number of turbines it intends to build.

“It’s difficult to comment on everything that was discussed today,” said We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey. “We still have to take a look at everything that was said today and determine how that impacts the project.”

The wind farm could cost up to $434 million and generate up to 209 megawatts of electricity, depending on what kind of turbines the utility uses.

–Paul Snyder

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