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Wind farm permit approved after rejection last year over wildlife concerns

Wind farm permit approved after rejection last year over wildlife concerns

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Wind farm (copy)

File photo of a wind farm near Courtenay, N.D.

The Public Service Commission has approved a permit for a wind farm in Burke County after rejecting an earlier version of the facility in 2019 because of concerns about its impact on wildlife.

NextEra Energy Resources redesigned the 200-megawatt wind farm, renaming it the Northern Divide Wind Energy Center. The new design has a smaller footprint. It will cover 11,000 acres of land -- about half the size of the earlier Burke Wind Farm -- and consist of 74 turbines.

The company relocated some of the turbines to avoid certain areas that previously posed wildlife habitat concerns raised by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All turbines would be located in cropland.

When the PSC rejected the original project, Game and Fish said the company couldn’t have picked a “worse place” for a wind project.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said the changes make it much more palatable to the wildlife community.

"All in all, I think that the company did what it needed to do, to reach the threshold of 'minimal impact' as required under the law, to receive the siting permit," Fedorchak said.

Commissioner Randy Christmann voted for the permit but expressed concern about the intermittent nature of renewable power, such as wind farms, which generate electricity only when the wind blows. That stands in contrast to baseload coal plants, which tend to operate 24/7. 

"I continue to believe that our country is oversaturating our electric grid with intermittent energy, at the expense of baseload energy," Christmann said. "But this is a siting case, and we have to decide this based on the North Dakota Siting Act."

Christmann said given that criteria, the project meets the requirements of the state's siting laws.

The project will cost $300 million to build. A 345-kilovolt power line will be built in Burke and Mountrail counties for the generated power at a $30 million cost.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative will buy the electricity. Commissioners said Next Era is planning to have the wind farm in service by the end of the year.

Bismarck Tribune reporter Amy R. Sisk contributed to this story.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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