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Wind power bill headed to governor's desk

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wind turbines (copy)

Wind turbines stand out against the colorful sky of the setting sun at a wind farm located in the rolling prairie hills a few miles northwest of Crown Butte Lake in Morton County. The blinking red lights atop the towers indicate their presence to any pilots flying nearby.

A bill about wind power is among the first pieces of energy legislation headed to Gov. Doug Burgum's desk this session.

The North Dakota Senate voted 45-1 on Tuesday to pass House Bill 1095, which has to do with the Public Service Commission's oversight of wind farms.

The bill, introduced at the request of the PSC, would allow the commission to waive the requirement that a wind farm install technology to mitigate the red lights that blink all night atop turbines. The commission could do so for "technical or economic feasibility considerations," and it could also allow wind farms more time to comply.

The measure follows a situation that arose over a wind farm proposed for Ward and McLean counties, which the PSC rejected last year. The developer planned to install a radar-based system that would shut the blinking lights off at night unless a plane flies in the vicinity, the only type of light mitigation technology approved in the United States.

The Minot Air Force Base expressed concerns about the system, as the base flies hundreds of helicopter missions each year to intercontinental ballistic missile sites, some of which are near where the turbines were proposed. Among the military's concerns was that blinking lights could tip off an enemy to a helicopter's location if the country were under attack.

The PSC debated whether to grant the proposed wind farm an exemption from the state's 2017 law requiring light mitigation technology atop turbines, but two of the three commissioners ultimately felt there was no wiggle room and voted against a permit.

The commissioners are hopeful another type of light mitigation technology will be available soon that dims the blinking lights based on visibility conditions. Such a system has been approved by Canadian transportation officials and is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The PSC sent a letter to North Dakota's congressional delegation last month asking them to urge the FAA to act.

House Bill 1095 also addresses another recent development at various wind farms across North Dakota: repowering.

Some operators are choosing to replace parts of older wind turbines to boost the amount of electricity they generate. The legislation would require that wind farms built years ago without PSC oversight obtain a permit from the commission if they are to be repowered. Nine older wind farms could be affected, according to written testimony from the PSC.

The bill passed the House in January with a vote of 79-11.

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

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