It's been nearly 60 years since a windmill has spun on Richard Haugeberg's wheat farm in north-central North Dakota.
The old weathered water-pumping windmill on Haugeberg's property near Max was considered a landmark in the region, and one of the few structures rising from the wide-open prairie. But now it's dwarfed by dozens of electric-generating wind towers that have shot up since late summer.
Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative says its $250 million wind farm project south of Minot is slated to come online by year's end and will be the largest cooperative-owned wind farm in the nation.
The last of the 80 wind turbines, each with a tower as high as a football field is long, was erected on Dec. 4, Basin spokesman Daryl Hill said.
"It has really changed the landscape," Hill said.
The wind farm consists of the three-turbine Minot Wind 2 project and the 77-turbine PrairieWinds 1 project. Combined, the projects will produce about 120 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 35,000 homes, Hill said.
The Basin project is the biggest cooperative-owned wind farm in the U.S. at present, said Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C.
She said the world's largest operating wind farm is a 781-megawatt project near Roscoe, Texas.
Construction Basin's projects began in August, Hill said. The new wind farm will incorporate two Basin wind turbines built in 2002, south of Minot.
The new wind turbines occupy some 30,000 acres along a stretch of about six miles along both sides of U.S. Highway 83.
The massive turbines, each of which have three 123-foot-long blades, appear surrealistic rising from the once empty land, said Haugeberg, the grain farmer.
"No doubt about, they catch some attention when people drive by," he said. "I imagine it will be one of those things we'll have to get used to, definitely."
Two of the new turbines are placed on Haugeberg's property.
"It's one of those things people may not want in their backyard, but I guess somebody's got to have it for green or renewable energy," he said.
Hill said Basin made agreements with 40 private landowners in the region to place the wind turbines. He said terms of the agreements are confidential.
"It's between us and the landowner," he said.
The new wind farm is some 15 miles south of Minot. It's located within the migratory route of the endangered whooping crane and encompasses several remote nuclear missile sites controlled by the Minot Air Force Base.
Commissioner Tony Clark, of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, said the military and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were consulted prior to construction of the wind farm.
Clark said none of the turbines is within a half mile of a nuclear missile site.
Terry Ellsworth, a Bismarck biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said rare whooping cranes pass through the area in the spring and fall on their migration route between Canada and Texas.
Ellsworth said Basin Electric has agreed to place private biologists in the area during the big birds' migration for at least the first three years the wind farm is running.
"They will have biologists on the ground looking for cranes," Ellsworth said. "If one is spotted, turbines within a mile will be shut down until the bird moves on."
Clark, of the Public Service Commission, said North Dakota has 765 megawatts of power generated from wind turbines, and another 500 under construction, including the new Basin projects.
North Dakota ranks 13th among states in wind power output, though it is rated tops for wind power potential, Clark said. North Dakota had no wind farms until this decade, he said.
"We're creeping up the list," he said.