Mower wind farm approved by PUC

Published 11:04 am Friday, October 18, 2013

By David Shaffer

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday approved Xcel Energy’s plan to add four Upper Midwest wind farms, including the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm near Austin, that will boost its wind power capacity in the region by 42 percent.

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The decision by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) clears the way for Minneapolis-based Xcel and two energy development companies, including Geronimo Energy of Edina, to push forward with the goal of meeting deadlines to secure lucrative federal tax credits.

Regulators rejected a request by other wind energy interests to extend the review process on the four projects in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Xcel declined to disclose the cost of the projects, including two that it will own and its customers will pay for in their rates. But the company said the projects are such a good deal that ratepayers will save $225 million over the projects’ lives.

“Wind energy is a clean, low-cost substitute for natural gas and other fuels right now,” Dave Sparby, Xcel’s regional CEO, said in a statement.

In July, Xcel Energy announced its intentions to buy the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm once it’s completed, but the project has undergone a bit of a makeover. The original plan called for a 300 MW wind farm of 130 to 180 turbines. The agreement with Xcel calls for a 200 MW wind farm of 100 2 MW turbines over 35,000 acres — 88 in Mower County and 12 in Dodge County.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners agreed earlier this month to be the permitting authority for a substation and transmission line for Pleasant Valley as well.

Xcel said the wind farms will generate enough power to serve about 200,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.5 million tons a year. The additional 750 megawatts of power is expected to be on line in 2015.

Two of the projects are the Courtenay Wind Farm near Jamestown, N.D., and the Odell Wind Farm, near Windom, Minn. Geronimo will develop those wind farms and the power will be sold to Xcel under a long-term contract.

Xcel will own the other two planned wind farms: Pleasant Valley and the Border Winds Project, in Rolette County, N.D. Both are being developed by RES America Developments Inc., which would sell them to Xcel on completion.

Some of the projects require additional regulatory approval, including by North Dakota utility regulators.

All of the projects aim to qualify for the federal wind Production Tax Credit, which was temporarily renewed by Congress in January. To qualify for the tax credit, which amounts to about 30 percent of a project’s cost but is paid out over 10 years, project developers must take steps to get started, such as ordering turbines, before the end of this year.

RES America will begin building the wind farm next spring, and the wind farm should be completed by October 2015. RES Americas will build an operations and maintenance facility that will likely be located in Sargeant.


—The Austin Daily Herald contributed to this report