Pure New Energy USA held a press conference Friday morning to refute what it called “inaccurate” information presented at last month’s Burleigh County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing in regard to the proposed Burleigh-Emmons Wind Farm.
The Bismarck Airport, as well as Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s involvement in the project, were among the topics discussed at the press conference, which was attended by about 20 Morton Township landowners.
PNE is requesting the planning and zoning board reconsider its recommendation to deny special use permits for the project in Morton Township. The matter is slated to come before the Burleigh County Commission Monday night.
“This decision is too important for the majority of Morton Township voters, the property rights for all North Dakota landowners and for economic development in this area for it not to be based on accurate information and that’s why we’re asking the planning and zoning board to reconsider,” said Courtney Timmons, PNE's director of business development.
Airport expansion considered
Among the planning and zoning board’s reasons to recommend denying the permits, as outlined in its report to the county commission, are the safety of airline pilots and the potential to hinder the future expansion of the Bismarck Airport.
In addition to citing the Federal Aviation Administration’s determination of no hazard to air navigation relating to the project, Timmons asked Robert Simmers, a local flight instructor and pilot of more than 50 years, to speak at the press conference on visual flight rules.
“For VFR flight, you have to maintain a minimum of 500 feet vertically or horizontally from any person, place or object on the surface,” he said. “During the daytime, you must have at least 1 mile visibility and remain clear of clouds, and at night you have to have 3 miles of visibility. If we follow those regulations, this proposed development has no adverse effect on VFR aviation in that area.”
The Bismarck Airport Master Plan Update Revised Draft, dated Feb. 17, 2017, states “the current length of 8,794 feet is the recommended length for the duration of the 20-year planning period.”
“The airport master plan is saying they have no need for additional expansion over the next 20 years,” Timmons said.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Steve Marquardt, who also is a Bismarck City Commissioner, said he remains concerned about how the wind farm could affect future plans for the airport or changing technology.
“Once these towers are built and there’s an issue, then who do we go and visit with about the cost of that to change that?” he said. “There’s too many unknowns for me to be positive on going ahead with this.”
No purchase agreements
At the Dec. 5 public hearing, Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, distributed a letter to commissioners that was signed by all North Dakota utility companies, including Basin Electric, indicating that none of them have agreements to purchase power from the proposed project and are not in any discussions to purchase the power.
“We are too soon in the development process to be looking for a power purchase agreement at this time. We need to be able to get some local permitting done before we can move into that stage of the project,” Timmons said. “So there’s a very reasonable explanation as to why a PPA is not available for the project right now.”
Providing emails dating back to October 2018 as evidence, Timmons says PNE has been in discussions with Basin Electric.
“These emails consist of an introduction of PNE to Basin, there was an introductory phone call with Basin staff, an exchange of an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), NDA redlines and there was an exchange of project information,” he said. “Discussions were occurring with Basin Electric.”
Joan Dietz, spokeswoman for Basin Electric, called the discussions a “normal course of business.”
“Basin Electric has discussions with anyone proposing potential projects and had discussions with PNE last year,” she said. “We have not had any further discussions nor do we have any intent to purchase the proposed project or output from the proposed project.”
A fair process
Timmons says he feels the planning and zoning board, as well as the county commission, needs to base any decision on accurate information.
“If they do it based on this inaccurate information … then I think the company is going to defend itself and do what it needs to, such that it gets a fair process,” he said.
Dave Nehring, an opponent of the project who arrived at the press conference after it had already begun, alleges he was blocked from entering the room at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, where the discussion was taking place.
Following the 20-minute press conference, a confrontation between Nehring and several proponents took place near the entrance of the building.
“I don’t come into this to cause consternation among us. I came to hear what was being said,” Nehring said. “We’ll offer what we feel are facts, you offer what you feel are facts and let’s let the people make the decisions.”
Bismarck Tribune reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this story.