North Dakota in the midst of a wind energy boom

While the oil boom in North Dakota may be over, the recent wind boom could be here to stay.

In the past decade, there have been more than 400 wind turbines placed on the western side of the state with an additional 550 proposed to be constructed by 2018.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has approved every wind farm in the state and Commissioner Brian Kalk said there will only be more wind farm developments in the future.

“North Dakota’s wind capacity is the best in the country,” Kalk said.

Kalk said other states are relying on North Dakota to reach renewable energy portfolio standards in the future. Thirty states have adopted RPS, which requires a specific percentage or amount of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal be produced within a certain amount of time.

PSC Chair Julie Fedorchak said one reason for the multiple wind projects proposed in a short time is because companies are trying to meet the deadline for the federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit, which expires at the end of the year

“I think you are seeing that as the drive for the companies to meet the deadline for the production tax credit,” she said. “They are under the gun to meet those deadlines and North Dakota’s limited construction season.”

Kalk said with larger North Dakota wind farms costing around $250 million, they’re simply “more economical when there are federal tax subsidies.”

NextEra’s projects

NextEra Energy Resources, a Florida-based company with 11 operational wind farms in North Dakota, proposed three projects in the state in a short period of time.

Brady Wind Energy Center I, in southern Stark County, generated heated debates among neighbors and created the PSC’s longest public hearing on a wind project at 15 hours on March 31.

Kalk attributed the hearing’s length to an increased awareness of wind energy, which brought with it more questions from residents.

The PSC on Thursday approved the $250 million Brady Wind I project, which will produce energy purchased by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

The 87-turbine, 150 megawatt wind farm was one of the most contested projects the PSC has heard, commissioners said.

The Concerned Citizens of Stark County, a grassroots group opposing the project, was granted intervener status by a judge prior to the public hearing and brought their own exhibits and testimony on why Brady Wind I shouldn’t be approved.

The PSC said after approving Brady Wind I that it’s legacy could be multiple changes to the way the commission holds public hearings on wind projects. Kalk called Brady Wind I “kind of a reset for wind siting in the state” because of the issues presented that the commission hadn’t really seen before.

Nonetheless, construction will begin on the project as early as next week with the 87 turbines set to be in operation by the end of the year.

While Brady Wind I was being debated, the second phase of the project in northern Hettinger County was approved by the county commissioners and sent to the PSC for a 10-hour public hearing on June 7. The PSC’s first work session for the 72-turbine 150 megawatt wind farm is Tuesday.

Another NextEra project, the 48-turbine 100-megawatt Oliver Wind III in Oliver and Morton counties — an add-on to an older 54-turbine two-phase project — was presented to the PSC for consideration on June 1.

NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner said the company has to make sure their possible locations have strong wind resources, access to transmission lines to deliver the energy and willing landowners.

Fedorchak said North Dakota’s transmission lines make it attractive to wind investors because, at one time, they carried coal-fired energy.

“The transmission system that exists in North Dakota has been reinforced and enhanced in the recent years to facilitate more wind,” she said.

More wind farms

Some of the most wide-open spaces of western North Dakota, which ironically are also home to hundreds of oil wells, are being eyed as possible wind farm locations.

In Bowman County, Apex Clean Energy is proposing 100 turbines near Rhame. The company hopes to have construction completed by 2018. In the meantime, it’s also considering Homestead Wind, a project of undetermined size in Williams County.

Apex’s website states that both projects are estimated to generate up to 300 megawatts of power.

Orion Renewables Energy Group is looking at northern Billings County for a 115-turbine project that would generate 250 megawatts of power. That project, however, hasn’t been brought before that county’s commission.

In northeast Williams County, Enel Green Power North America has started construction on its first North Dakota wind farm, the 75-turbine Lindahl Wind Farm.

“We are going to see more wind farms in North Dakota,” Kalk said.

As more wind turbines go up in the state, the industry is making small improvements that could hold a lot of weight with the PSC.

During the hearing for Brady Wind II, NextEra presented a system recently approved by the Federal Aviation Administration that would eliminate the constant red blinking lights atop the wind towers.

The company said it plans to incorporate an Aircraft Detection Light System, a new radar system to warn pilots in the vicinity of the towers with the lights only flashing when they are within a certain proximity.

Fedorchak, who made her distaste for the constant blinking lights known during the Brady Wind I hearing, said she plans to bring the system to the attention to every wind energy company aiming to erect turbines in North Dakota.

“We would sure like this being used as soon as it’s turned on,” she said during the hearing for Brady Wind II.