PSC approves proposed wind project purchase with conditions

The state PSC has approved with some conditions an application from Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric to buy a proposed wind energy project in Grant County for about $162 million. 

Construction on the 92 megawatt Red Barn Wind Energy Center Generation Facility is scheduled to begin early this year and wrap up by the end of 2022, PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq said yesterday during a meeting of the three-member Public Service Commission. 

The project seller is an affiliate of Minnesota-based PRC Wind called Red Barn Energy LLC. Allete Clean Energy, also based in Minnesota, will acquire and construct the project, according to a memo provided by commission staff. 

Under the application approved by the PSC, WPS and MGE will purchase the wind energy project for approximately $162 million. Valcq noted the applicants will acquire the project only after construction and initial operations have been completed. 

While commissioners all voted to approve the application, they included six conditions that Valcq called “reasonable and necessary.” These conditions include: the commission reviewing acquisition cost recovery in a future rate case; applicants notifying the PSC of the effective date of the purchase within 30 days of the transfer; applicants upholding agreements made by the developer related to mitigating environmental impacts; applicants receiving and complying with all required permits; and others. 

“At the end of the day, I think that the evidence that we have in front of us is enough to support a finding that this project satisfies the statutory requirements,” Valcq said. 

Commissioners didn’t include one condition from the memo related to violation of noise standards, noting the county already has a wind ordinance in place that would make the condition redundant. 

Commissioners Tyler Huebner and Ellen Nowak highlighted stress testing and modeling performed by PSC staff, arguing results indicate the project meets standards laid out in state statute. 

“There was a lot of stress testing done, as you both mentioned,” Huebner said. “I feel comfortable that this is a reasonable project, that it meets the standard.” 

Organizations including RENEW Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum and Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action submitted comments to the commission urging approval of the application. RENEW Wisconsin estimates the project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Wisconsin by 167,000 tons in its first full year of operation. 

The Citizens Utility Board, which represents residential and small business ratepayers in the state, argued in a separate report to the commission that the application “lacks analytical rigor.” CUB had asked the PSC to delay its decision on the Red Barn wind project to open a separate proceeding examining the broader generation reshaping plan from WEC Energy Group, the parent company of WPS. 

While Valcq and Huebner both said they appreciated CUB’s perspective, Valcq noted the commission lacks the authority to examine the company’s broad reshaping plan. She added she “shared CUB’s concern about the generation reshaping plan in general and our ability to really look at that plan holistically.” 

But she said the PSC doesn’t have “a legal basis upon which to do something like what CUB has asked us to do.” 

Nowak expressed frustration with CUB’s request. 

“They know, as you said, we don’t have statutory authority to do advanced planning,” she said. “The more I read their comments, I was more frustrated afterwards … if they want to make that lobbying effort, there’s the Legislature to go do that.” 

–By Alex Moe