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Public Service Commission

The North Dakota Public Service Commission convened Wednesday, discussing a wind farm application and the increase in the number of non-coal energy projects.

A 300-megawatt wind farm application has been submitted to the Public Service Commission for Barnes County.

"This is the largest single application that has been filed," said Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk on Wednesday.

Glacier Ridge Wind Farm LLC, a subsidiary of Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc., proposes to use 87 to 99 wind turbines to be located about 5 miles northeast of Valley City.

"We continue to see large wind farm applications at the Public Service Commission. There are a lot of wind farm projects being contemplated," Kalk said.

According to its application, Glacier Ridge aims to start construction in November. Work could take 14 months to complete. Testing of the wind farm system is expected to be done in November 2019, and commercial operation to begin the following December.

To receive the full tax credit break, construction of the project must start in 2016, the company noted in its application.

Throughout Wednesday's meeting, commissioners expressed condolences to the families of 65 workers at Great River Energy Stanton Station after it was announced the plant will close May 2017. A continued theme of discussion was the trend to convert energy power away from a coal base to wind and other alternatives.

Low gas prices are driving a trend from coal to other sources on the electrical grid, according to Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, noting that gas turbine energy generators are easier to fire up than a coal facility.

She noted the move can put customers at risk for higher electricity costs once gas prices rise again.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said the federal tax breaks for wind energy also are diverting the energy industry from coal-powered energy.

Kalk said that U.S. Congress has extended the wind energy tax credit through the end of the year.

Commissioners noted the electrical energy source decisions more often are being decided by regional transmission organizations or regional power markets than by local-based companies. These RTOs buy energy from various plants. Power companies bid to provide their energy source.

Fines

Four companies were fined for violations. R.J. Corman Derailment Services LLC, of Billings, Mont., was fined $500 for violating the North Dakota Century Code. In October 2014, Enbridge complained that R.J. Corman failed to give notice about excavation plans by contacting North Dakota One Call 48 hours in advance and a backhoe got stuck while digging near major pipelines. Enbridge stopped the work before damage could occur.

Kalk said R.J. Corman Derailment Services did not have a license to operate in North Dakota.

In addition, Kollman Construction was fined $1,000 for after it hit a water main in Zap. 

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Bulldog Concrete Inc. was fined $1,500 for damage caused to a natural gas service line.

Keller Paving and Landscaping was fined $1,000 for digging within 10 feet of a crude oil pipeline.

Reclamation honor

The PSC's Abandoned Mine Lands Program was honored with the the 2016 Small Project Award from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The award is used to recognize high-quality projects in the country that reclaim abandoned coal mines.

The AML program was awarded for its drilling and grouting at Halleck Mine, 5 miles north of Bowman. The underground coal mine operated from 1919 to 1944. The mine's coal seam was 30- to 40-feet thick and the top of the coal seam was 10 to 50 feet below the surface. Sinkholes were common in the area and exploratory drilling showed mine voids near public roads and a large 30-inch diameter, high-pressure natural gas pipeline.

In 2014, emergency repairs were completed due to several large sink holes that severed a fiber optic telecommunications cable within 90 feet of the pipeline.

The award will be presented in September at the National Association of Abandoned Mine Lands Program annual meeting in Bozeman, Mont.

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(Reach LeAnn Eckroth at 701-250-8264 or leann.eckroth@bismarcktribune.com)

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