Getting proposed wind farms spinning in North Dakota isn’t as easy as in the past, and it’s likely to get more difficult. There are growing concerns about the projects, ranging from the impact on the viewshed to the noise created by the turbines.
There were other issues raised last week during a Public Service Commission meeting on the Ruso Wind Project in Ward and McLean counties. The Tribune editorial board feels while they are valid issues, they won’t necessarily stop the project. However, they could add to the cost of completing it.
Minot Air Force Base officials explained their concerns about the proposed lighting for the wind farm. The base’s helicopters fly hundreds of missions each year related to the operation of intercontinental ballistic missiles buried in North Dakota. The Air Force is worried the proposed lights could alert opposition forces to the location of a helicopter flying at night.
The Air Force argues this could threaten the mission of the helicopters. Ruso Wind plans to install a radar-based system that would cause lights to blink when an aircraft flies in the vicinity of the wind farm.
Earlier last week, Department of Defense and Air Force officials discussed concerns about wind farms with the PSC in a closed meeting. The officials would like to see uniform rules for wind farms in North Dakota along with Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska.
The Defense Department would like to see a distance of more than 2 miles between a wind turbine and a missile launch facility. That would be a tenfold increase in the distance required presently in the state. Defense officials also want lighting added that’s compatible with night-vision goggles worn by helicopter pilots.
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A representative of the American Wind Energy Association argued the present review process is sufficient and that “one-size-fits-all” state rules could stop projects.
The Tribune isn’t sure how much of a threat helicopter pilots might face, but an attorney who works with the PSC said the Federal Aviation Administration, which approves a wind farm’s lighting system, won’t approve a lighting system if the military objects.
This suggests Ruso Wind might have to make a change. Wind farms bring benefits to the state, but North Dakota tends to be protective of the military presence here.
The Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota raised another issue at then PSC meeting. The union wants the commission to require the companies to report the number of local and nonlocal workers used to construct wind farms.
The union released a report last month that estimates 14% of construction jobs on recent wind farm projects in the state were filled by North Dakota-based workers. It’s not unusual for companies to use the same traveling workers on projects. This is often cheaper.
While there was understanding from the commission, commissioners suggested it might be more appropriate for the Legislature, Department of Commerce or Job Service North Dakota to adopt the reporting requirement.
The Tribune believes the use of more North Dakota workers would be financially beneficial to the state.
Whatever the outcome of the Ruso Wind request before the PSC, it’s apparent future wind projects in the state will face more hurdles in the future. That’s OK. While wind farms provide a source of renewal energy, they also have drawbacks. Thorough hearings are needed before the turbines are allowed to dot the landscape.