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PUC kills certificate of need for Big Stone II lines

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has killed the certificate of need for the transmission lines that would have served the failed Big Stone II power plant in eastern South Dakota.

But the PUC has kept the route permit for the transmission lines open for one year to give the power plant's partners time to find other parties that may want to construct the proposed lines.

Bret Exnes, a PUC facility planner, said the situation is unusual.

"I don't really have much for precedent regarding a certificate of need that we've issued that hasn't worked out and we've canceled it. I think given the potential hopes of wind developers and others, they thought maybe the line would be beneficial there, so they think there might be a future for the line even though the Big Stone II facility isn't going through,'' Exnes told the Tribune.

The PUC acted Feb. 25 after the partners declared in November that they had abandoned plans to build the power plant next to the smaller Big Stone I plant near Big Stone City, S.D., and said they were discontinuing efforts to build the transmission lines to carry power to customers in Minnesota.

The partners asked the PUC to extinguish their rights and obligations under the certificate of need, but asked that they be given time to seek other parties that may want to build the lines and transfer those rights and obligations to a third party.

Exnes said the PUC limited the period to one year to see if there's a potential for transferring the route permit, or to have it end.

Exnes said the one-year time period will end on Feb. 25, 2011.

The Big Stone partners' request to keep the route permit open was supported by a consortium of five environmental groups, which had opposed the certificate of need largely due to their opposition to the proposed Big Stone II plant, according to the PUC order.

Yet the consortium favored development of additional transmission capacity that might help more customers receive power from wind turbines. Consequently, the consortium generally supported the proposal to surrender the certificate of need but retain the route permit -- provided any resulting transmission lines will be used for transmission of wind power.

The environmental groups pointed out that killing the certificate of need but keeping the route permit open created an odd circumstance.

The groups recommended the PUC manage the situation by limiting the duration of the route permit to a sufficient time period to determine whether any new entity would develop transmission lines similar to those contemplated in the route permit.

In its order, the PUC required the partners to report at 90-day intervals on the status of discussions with potential parties that may apply for a certificate of need for all or portions of the approved transmission line route, and may qualify to receive the route permit.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150