A split Public Service Commission gave the green light Wednesday for a 150-megawatt wind farm project in Adams County.
The project is being pursued by Thunder Spirit Wind LLC and would contain up to 75 wind turbines near Hettinger. It had been delayed to allow for a series of hearings on the county level to address zoning issues.
Commissioner Randy Christmann was the three-member commission’s lone no vote after voicing concerns, including the effects of the project on ratepayers.
Commission Chairman Brian Kalk said the commission had originally scheduled a hearing in August, which was delayed.
“As the hearing date approached, it appeared … there were a number of issues,” Kalk said.
Those issues included the setbacks for the wind turbines, as well as landowner concerns over the impact the turbines would have on their land and quality of life.
Kalk said Adams County approved the project with setbacks of 2,640 feet from occupied structures.
“This is by far the most restrictive (setback) … the board has been involved in,” Kalk said.
He said the PSC typically uses a 1,400-foot setback as a rule of thumb for wind projects. Kalk added that for setbacks on projects, he’s in favor of letting the county determine what it thinks is appropriate.
The $300 million project is to take nine months to complete and construction is expected to begin later this year or in early 2014.
Christmann expressed concern over the possible impact the project could have on North Dakota ratepayers. He pointed to the fact that Thunder Spirit Wind hasn’t yet signed a power agreement with a customer for the generated power. If the power generated is sold to North Dakota customers it could impact ratepayers substantially, he said.
Christmann said Thunder Spirit Wind should “show how it fits” into the state’s energy picture.
He also cited legislation passed in 2007. The law set an objective of having 10 percent of the state’s energy production to come from renewable sources including wind by 2015.
“Clearly that 10 percent objective has been met and surpassed,” Christmann said.
Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she believed the power generated by the wind farm likely would be used in the oil patch in the northwest part of the state, where power is in high demand. She said the 10 percent renewable energy objective wasn’t likely meant to be a set limit on such energy production.
“I don’t believe it was a floor or ceiling,” Fedorchak said. “I tend to think the company has done its work.”