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By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The Antrim Wind Energy project may have a new owner while intervenors wait for a state Supreme Court decision they hope overturns the project’s approval.
According to a press release by Canadian energy giant TransAlta, the company has agreed to purchase the Antrim project along with another wind farm ready for construction in Pennsylvania.
Without naming Antrim Wind, the TransAlta press release cites a 29 megawatt, construction-ready project in New Hampshire with two 20-year purchased power contracts.
The description could only be the Antrim Wind project, which the Site Evaluation Committee approved last year for 29 megawatts and with purchase power agreements with the New Hampshire Electric Coop and Partners HealthCare.
TransAlta, formerly Calgary Power, is Canada’s largest investor-owned renewable energy provider with wind and hydro facilities in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia. The company also owns a wind farm in Wyoming and has generating facilities in Australia.
The Alberta Utilities Commission ruled in 2015 the power generator timed outages in order to drive up prices in 2010 and 2011.
The AUC fined the company $56 million, according to an Oct. 29, 2015 press release and stated “the contraventions resulted in significant, widespread harm to customers and the market by negatively impacting pool prices, the forward market and customer confidence…The outage contraventions were premised on manipulation and were part of a broad scheme (the portfolio bidding strategy) that was systematic and persistent… The portfolio bidding strategy was approved by TransAlta’s senior management…”
In the TransAlta Renewable’s press release announcing the purchase agreements, the company notes that the cost of both projects is expected to be $240 million with electric generation beginning the second half of 2019.
Although the Antrim agreement was announced in February by TransAlta, Antrim intervenors and the Counsel for the Public both note in recent filings, the SEC has yet to inform them of the proposed sale.
“Site 301.17 (a) requires that the certificate holder promptly notify the committee of any proposed or actual change in ownership of the holder. Certainly the press release issued by TransAlta indicating that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Antrim Wind and finance the construction of the project, qualifies as a proposed change in ownership,” writes Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice on March 27 for Counsel for the Public. “Thus, AWE’s assertion, that the call was a simple courtesy call to the Administrator understates its obligations under Site 301.17 (a).”
“Further, aside from issues related to possible ex parte communications, this remains an open docket and the SEC should be providing notice of these proposed changes to all of the parties,” Rice writes.
Both the Counsel for the Public and intervenors, who have appealed the SEC’s approval to the state Supreme Court, have challenged the project’s financing plan saying it has significantly changed from what regulators approved.
The SEC’s approval requires an approved financing plan before construction begins, but intervenors and the Counsel for the Public say the plan approved by SEC administrator Pam Monroe is significantly different from what developers stated during the adjudicative hearings.
Developers said their parent company, German energy conglomerate RWE AG, would provide about 11 percent of the funding for the project while the remaining money would be raised from outside lending institutions.
However, developers sent letters to the SEC in December saying RWE would fund the entire project, and the SEC administrator determined they met the financing condition.
The intervenors claim the change in financing should be addressed by the SEC and not the administrator, but attorney Barry Needleman representing the developers said the docket is closed and should not be reopened without a ruling to do so by the Supreme Court.
“The Certificate contains over 80 conditions, and together with individual requirements in underlying permits and agreements that are incorporated into the Certificate there are over 200 conditions,” Needleman wrote in a March filing. “The Complainants are in effect asserting that they have a right to challenge every one of these conditions as they are implemented by the Committee. There is no basis for such a claim.”
SEC chair Martin Honigberg issued an order the same day the Counsel for the Public objected to Needleman’s filing.
The Counsel for the Public said the docket is still open, but Honigberg ruled it is closed.
“At this time, the Site Evaluation Committee has completed its exercise of authority in Docket No. 2015-02. A certificate was granted, motions for rehearing were denied, and the matter is on appeal at the New Hampshire Supreme Court,” Honigberg wrote in the March 27 order. “This is not an open docket.”
The committee’s rules were followed for determining if there is a violation of a condition, he said. To request a review of a decision by the SEC’s administrator requires a petition for a declaratory ruling, Honigberg wrote giving intervenors and the Counsel for the Public 10 days to file a petition.
Oral arguments for the Supreme Court appeal were held in January. The court has yet to issue a decision.
The Antrim Wind Energy project was first denied by the SEC, but was revised and won approval last year.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com
Correction: InDepthNH.org erroneously reported Tuesday that no petition had been filed, but one had been filed in a new docket.