Regulators Approve Unusual Wind Deal for SDG&E

TURN wins affordable wind power for San Diego consumers

The California Public Utilities Commission approved Thursday a deal that will allow San Diego Gas & Electric to invest in a 189-megawatt Montana wind farm.

Under the deal, SDG&E ratepayers will invest up to $250 million or 65 percent of the expenses, with NaturEner Corp. to build a wind project. SDG&E shareholders will take the unusual step of investing 10 percent of the cost of the project, which works out to about $38.5 million. Ratepayers will be paid back first, before shareholders, under the terms of the agreement. NaturEner will cover the rest.

“Normally, utilities want to invest zero dollars of shareholder money, said Matt Freedman, a staff attorney for The Utility Reform Network, an advocacy nonprofit. “This is unprecedented.”

Mike Niggli, SDG&E’s chief operating officer, was pleased with the deal.

“This unique financial transaction is a real benefit for our customers;” he said in an emailed statement. “It means lower costs for clean energy. We expect it could save $75 million to $100 million over the life of the contract compared to the cost of the same power with traditional financing.”

In June, the utility had hoped to save a larger version of the financially troubled wind turbine project with a $600 million investment of ratepayer funds. But TURN and the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an independent arm of the commission, objected, and they negotiated the new agreement.