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NextEra’s legal challenge to big MidAmerican wind project rejected

Dave DeWitte, CR Gazette –

The Iowa Supreme Court sided with the state’s utilities board this week when it rejected a challenge to the board’s ruling on a $2 billion wind power project approved for MidAmerican Energy in late 2009.
NextEra Energy Resources appealed the Iowa Utilities Board ruling that allowed MidAemrican to receive an advance determination of the amount of investment it could recover from ratepayers on its 1,001-megawatt Wind VII project.
MidAmerican is a rate-regulated utility based in Des Moines. Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources is the largest owner and operator of wind farms in the United States, selling its power on a wholesale basis to utilities and large customers.
Some of the power from the wind project is not immediately needed by MidAmerican’s customers, and will be sold on a wholesale basis to customers in other states, competing with NextEra.
NextEra’s lawsuit contended that the utilities board’s December 2009 decision was grounded in numerous errors of fact and law, and establishes irrational policy.
The supreme court rejected NextEra’s arguments that the utilities board erroneously found the project met the statutory definition of “need” when it approved the project.
NextEra had also argued that the board improperly found that the request would not discriminate against alternate energy providers such as itself.
MidAmerican had given numerous reasons for pursuing the project. It cited the state’s encouragement of renewable energy, favorable experiences with its prevous wind projects, and market conditions that allowed it to buy wind turbines at reasonable prices. The company also said the project would pay for itself over the 20-year period in which it could claim depreciation on the asset, mitigating the need to increase rates in the future.
MidAmerican Energy spokeswoman Ann Thelen said the company has brought 594 megawatts of the Wind VII project online, and plans to bring the remaining 407 megawatts online before the end of the year in Tama County, Marshall County, Guthrie County, Audubon County and Adair County.
“We are very pleased with the ruling and we appreciate the opportunity to continue to develop wind projects in Iowa that we beleve are very beneficial to the state and our customers,” Thelen said.
Justice Edward Mansfield issued a concurring opinion in which he disagreed on some of the panel’s findings, but agreed with the outcome.

A spokesman for Florida-based NextEra said the company will not comment until analyzing the ruling.
Legal challenges to state utilities board rulings are relatively rare. Cedar Rapids-based Interstate Power and Light and Spain-based Iberdrola Renewables had also intervened in the Iowa Utilities Board case, but did not seek legal review of the decision.

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