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ND wind energy continues growth

Wind projects seek to clear hurdles

File Photo Wind energy produces more than 3,600 megawatts of electricity in North Dakota. North Dakota has 1,968 turbines, with additional projects under construction or permitted for future construction, according to the N.D. Public Service Commission.

Wind energy development hit a few bumps in North Dakota over the past year, but projects remain on the horizon or are moving forward.

Three projects went into service in 2019, all in December. Those projects were in Dickey, Mercer, Morton, Emmons and Logan counties.

Various projects remain in different stages of development in the Minot region.

Northern Divide Wind

NextEra Energy Resources, through its subsidiary, Burke Wind, proposed a 200-megawatt wind farm and transmission line in Burke County. However, the North Dakota Public Service Commission rejected the wind farm last June after hearing concerns from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about dangers to migratory birds.

NextEra now has a new project application for a 200-megawatt project with about 75 turbines, called Northern Divide Wind.

“We worked pretty diligently with key stakeholders to design a new site and modify turbine layout for the wind project,” said NextEra spokesperson Conlan Kennedy. “The application represents our determination to build a project that the state can be proud of and that also Burke County can also be proud of. It’s a project that’s going to create homegrown, renewable energy, good jobs and millions of dollars in additional revenue for the local community there.”

The project remains in Burke County but the layout has been modified. The location is in the northwest corner of the county, in the Columbus area, covering 10,912 acres.

Kennedy said the company worked with stakeholders to address the issues affecting the first application. The Public Service Commission was to hold a public hearing in Bowbells on April 17. If the application is approved, construction could start this year, he said. Construction is expected to take six months, with the possibility of finishing yet this year.

Approximately 200 to 300 construction jobs will be created.

“We like to use local vendors. And on top of that, it also helps bring millions of dollars into the community,” Kennedy said. “It supports local businesses.”

During the 30-year life expectancy of the proposed wind farm, it can be expected to generate about $30 million in property taxes, according to NextEra. Local school districts would receive more than $14 million over the life of the project. Burke County government would see collections increase by more than $10 million, and fire and ambulance districts would receive nearly $1.5 million in new funds. It would generate about $30 million in payments to participating landowners over the first 30 years.

Kennedy noted the project provides diversification for local farmers. Guaranteed payments from wind turbines can offset unpredictable harvests and commodity prices, he said.

“It’s a way to save the farm and maybe be able to pass it on to the next generation,” said Lynn Watterud, a Columbus landowner. He also noted the local support for the project because of the tax benefits to township government and the local fire department.

The Burke County Commission gave the project approval based on its planning and zoning rules. However, commissioners also acknowledge the economic benefits.

“We feel like it will be a good opportunity for landowners in Burke County,” County Commission Chairman Jarret Van Berkom said. “It’s nice for those landowners to have another option to potentially have income off of their land.”

NextEra has had 14 wind projects in operation in North Dakota, having invested $2.7 billion within the state since 2003.

Tradewind Energy

Also in northwestern North Dakota, Tradewind Energy has a 300-megawatt wind farm, the Aurora Wind Project, under construction about five miles northwest of Tioga. Located mostly in Williams and Mountrail counties, the wind farm consists of about 44,000 acres involving about 125 owners and up to 121 turbines. Completion is anticipated in late 2020.

Ruso Wind

The Public Service Commission declined on March 4 to approve a permit for Southern Power to site a 205-megawatt wind farm near Ruso. State law requires light-mitigating technology to avoid red blinking lights all night. The radar-based technology, which triggers the lights when an aircraft is in the vicinity, met objection from Minot Air Force Base for security reasons. The base flies helicopters to missile sites in the area. The wind farm, located in southeastern Ward County, was to have up to 47 turbines, although four turbines and one alternate were identified for elimination to satisfy concerns of the air base.

Ruso Wind is evaluating its options in light of the PSC decision. Commissioners indicated they are open to a modified permit should different light-mitigating technology become approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. In the meantime, Ruso Wind still needs to obtain agreements necessary to bring its wind power onto the grid.

PrairieWinds

Basin Electric Cooperative faces a similar dilemma as Southern Power regarding aircraft detection lighting systems (ADLS).

Basin Electric is working with federal agencies on the approval of an ADLS system for PrairieWinds ND 1, south of Minot. State law requires existing wind farms to have the technology in place at the end of 2021.

The Air Force has informed Basin Electric that an ADLS system is not compatible with its facilities. The Air Force is preparing an official notice on its position, according to Basin Electric. In order to add an ADLS system, Basin Electric is required to get a permit change from the FAA, which consults with the Air Force and other agencies before issuing any permit change. Basin Electric stated last month that it currently does not appear that its permit change will be granted.

Basin Electric’s Minot Wind 2 produces less than five megawatts of electricity so is exempt under the state law requiring ADLS on larger wind farms.

Rolette Power Development

A proposed wind farm at Rolette still is somewhat in limbo. It has been in planning since July 2011.

Lyle Best, Watford City, president of Rolette Power Development, said the loss of federal tax credits is not as critical an issue with the project as it once was because of the efficiency of wind towers today.

However, the project still faces a hurdle in bringing power from a wind farm onto the electrical grid, he said. North Dakota produces more power than it uses, but the transmission system carrying power out of the state is at or near capacity, and the construction of additional infrastructure is expensive and time consuming, he said.

There are two electrical systems, Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator and Western Area Power Administration, that carry power from the region and with which the Rolette project could seek to interconnect. Both require extensive engineering studies that would cost upwards of $200,000, Best said.

“We have already spent tens of thousands doing preliminary studies. We basically don’t have that kind of capital to work with at this point,” he said. “You put out a large amount of money and don’t know whether you will get approval.”

In addition, the capacity of engineering firms to do the work isn’t sufficient currently because they have so many projects striving to get ahead of the tax credit expiration on their plates, he said.

Best said the project’s best options are for a large company with financial resources to invest or for a power supplier to purchase the proposed wind farm’s output. He said two power suppliers have shown some interest, and talks are ongoing that could result in decisions being made by this summer.

The project has approvals for up to 100.4 megawatts, or between 43 and 59 turbines. It still would need site approval for turbine placement if plans move forward.

Rolette Power Development is proposing a project covering more than 14,000 acres in Rolette County. The center of the footprint is about five miles south and three miles west of the city of Rolette. It is north of, but not contiguous with, the Iberdrola wind farm, north of Rugby.

The project development company is a joint venture between M-Power of Finley and Border Power. Each of the two owners is comprised of participating landowners within the respective footprints, local investors and their respective community economic development investors. The 45 landowners who had the authority and signed wind development easements for the Rolette Power Project footprint are shareholders in Border Power.

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