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Six utility companies to challenge judges' report on Big Stone II proposal, local MUC GM reports

WILLMAR -- Six electric utilities will challenge a judicial panel's report recommending that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission reject a transmission line project linked to the proposed Big Stone II power plant.

Bruce Gomm, general manager of Willmar Municipal Utilities, said the six electric utilities participating in Big Stone II will challenge the recommendations of two administrative law judges when Public Utilities Commission hearings begin June 3.

"That's where we'll be presenting evidence, we will present facts pertaining to the administrative law judges' report,'' Gomm said. "We will point out errors or omissions, or overreaching authority that they tried to do, so that (the Public Utilities Commission) can make a more informed decision on the project.''

Gomm discussed the report during the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission's regular meeting Monday.

The judges recommended the PUC deny the application for the certificate of need for the transmission line project. The lines would bring power into Minnesota from the proposed coal-fired plant in eastern South Dakota near the western Minnesota border.

Willmar has signed up to buy 30 megawatts of power through one of the six participants proposing the 500-megawatt or 580-megawatt plant.

The purchase would replace 30 megawatts that Willmar buys from Great River Energy under a contract that expires in 2015. Willmar utility officials don't think the terms of a new contract with GRE will be as favorable as the present contract. Great River Energy was an original participant but later dropped out.

Gomm said the judges' reason for denial "doesn't seem to make very much sense to us. They ran some models to test some of the loads of the different participants and came up with different results than what the participants presented. We don't understand how or why.''

He said that the judges criticized one participant, Central Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, because CMMPA didn't model it the way the judges felt they should. At the same time, Gomm said, the judges praised participant Missouri River Energy Services for the way that agency ran its model, and both agencies did it exactly the same.

Also, Gomm said the judges tried to impose regulations on Otter Tail Power Company plants in South Dakota. Otter Tail, located in Fergus Falls, is the lead Big Stone II participant.

"We feel that they've overstepped their bounds as far as the different issues they've raised in the report,'' Gomm said.

In addition, the judges said participants didn't demonstrate that renewable energy and conservation wouldn't be less expensive than Big Stone II and that they are not doing enough to develop renewable energy and promote conservation, Gomm said.

"(The judges) feel that it's possible that renewables could be less expensive and that the participants did not demonstrate that it wouldn't be, which I believe that we did,'' he said.

In other business, the commission voted to reissue a call for bids for two turbines for a proposed wind generation project. The bids are being reissued because no proposals were received two months ago when the bids were first issued.

Gomm said the utilities worked with turbine vendors to eliminate some details in the original issue and included specifications that vendors normally bid in the second issue.

Also, the commission approved the revised water emergency and conservation plan. The plan is required by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The plan was adopted in 1997 and is revised every 10 years.