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Iowa Utilities Board Issues Ruling

By Staff | Feb 8, 2018

On Friday, Feb. 2 by the Iowa Utilities Board ruled on one of the most controversial issues seen in Palo Alto County.

On Dec. 5, 2017, Bertha and Stephen Mathis [Petitioners] filed a petition with the State of Iowa Department of Commerce Utilities Board requesting the Board declare that a certificate of public convenience, use and necessity is required for a MidAmerican wind energy project in Palo Alto County.

Later that same month, the Utilities Board granted petitions to intervene by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, MidAmerican and Palo Alto Wind Energy as well as a joint petition filed by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Iowa Environmental Council as Environmental Intervenors.

In their petition, the Mathis’ were asking that the Utilities Board find that the Project (Palo Alto Wind) is a “facility” and therefore must obtain a certificate of public convenience, use and necessity pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 476A and to interpret the definition of a facility, found in Iowa Code 476A.1(5).

The Utilities Board listed several cases including Zond Development Corporation, Docket Nos. DRU-97-5 and DRU-97-6 (November 6, 1997), MWW Holdings, LLC and Storm Lake Power Partners I, LLC, Dockett No. WRU-2015-0001-3700 (February 6, 2015) and MidAmerican Energy Company, Docket No. DRU-03-3 (June 6, 2003). In all cases, the Utilities Board determined that the term “facility” refers to the wind turbines connected to a common gathering line at a single sight is less than 25 MW (megawatts) of nameplate capacity.

The Utilities Board ruling states “Petitioners have presented no compelling justification to overturn this well-established Board precedent, nor have Petitioners distinguished the facts and circumstances surrounding the Project from any of the other wind energy projects that the Board has considered when finding that the term “facility” refers to the wind turbines connected to a common gathering line at a single site.”

The decision as to the interpretation of what the term “facility” defines was made on November 6, 1997. The Iowa Legislature has not taken any action to modify this meaning nor address the way the Utilities Board had interpreted the meaning of “facility” and no court has addressed the issue either.

Because of the reason stated in their ruling, the Utilities Board reaffirmed its long-standing determination that the term “facility” is measured by the nameplate generating capacity of the wind turbines connected to a single gathering line.

In short, the Palo Alto wind energy project does not need to get prior permission from the Iowa Utilities Board to build turbines in Palo Alto County.

However, this is not the end of the story.

On Feb. 5, attorneys for Bertha and Stephen Mathis filed a Petition for Judicial Review in District Court against the Iowa Utilities Board as the Respondent and included Palo Alto Wind Energy, LLC and MidAmerican Energy Company as Indispensable Parties.

They are asking that the Court set aside the declaratory order issued by the Respondent (Iowa Utilities Board) on Feb. 2, and that the Court declare that a facility as defined in Iowa Code 476A.1(5), with regard to wind energy projects, is the entire project that is being developed as one project, and for such other and further relief as the Court deems appropriate.

A date for this hearing has not been set at this time.