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Utilities: Customers should pay project costs

Dale Wetzel
AP Writer

Bismarck, ND — North Dakota electric customers may have to pay $14.5 million over three years to cover two utilities’ development costs for an abandoned power plant project, regulatory filings show.

The proposals, which North Dakota’s Public Service Commission will consider next week, will cost Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. residential customers about $19 annually, according to the filings. Otter Tail Power Co. customers will pay almost $7.50 more each year.

Both examples are based on 750 kilowatt-hours of electric use each month, which is typical for a residential customer, according to the utilities. MDU and Otter Tail want to begin including the new monthly charges on customers’ bills in June.

MDU, which is based in Bismarck, and Otter Tail, which has its headquarters in Fergus Falls, Minn., were two leading partners in the planning of Big Stone II, a 550-megawatt power plant in northeastern South Dakota.

The project, which was more than four years in the making, was canceled in November, with developers citing financing problems and the possibility of new federal carbon dioxide restrictions.

Otter Tail, which was Big Stone II’s managing partner, had withdrawn almost three months before.

Construction of the new power plant never began. It was to be next to the older Big Stone power station, which Otter Tail also manages.

According to Public Service Commission filings, MDU and Otter Tail spent $26.6 million developing Big Stone II. MDU is requesting that North Dakota customers pay almost $10.1 million of that sum, including 10 percent interest over three years, according to regulatory filings. Otter Tail wants $4.3 million, an amount that includes 8.6 percent interest.

Utility representatives and PSC staffers negotiated the terms of both agreements. Kevin Cramer, the commission’s chairman, said both will be reviewed at a May 5 hearing at the state Capitol.

“I suspect we’ll have a number of questions about the terms,” Cramer said.

MDU has about 75,000 North Dakota electric customers. Otter Tail has about 57,000 customers in eastern North Dakota.

Regulators in South Dakota and Montana have agreed to allow MDU to defer its Big Stone II development costs until the utility files its next request in those states to increase electric rates, MDU spokesman Mark Hanson said.

Cris Kling, an Otter Tail spokeswoman, said the expense allocation will be an issue in the utility’s subsequent rate cases in South Dakota and Montana.

It is likely that both utilities will have an easier time recouping their costs in North Dakota.

Two years ago, the Public Service Commission concluded — at the utilities’ request — that the Big Stone II project was a prudent way to meet rising electric demand. State law makes it more difficult for the PSC to deny utilities’ reimbursement requests if they have obtained advance review.

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One comment

  1. People add power companies to their investment portfolios (like IRA’s) because they have a healthy return and then the NIMBY’s stop the development by changing environmental rules halfway through a project… the consumer always pays… .Where do people think money comes from for ANY corporation? Why does this always get reported with breathless animosity?

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