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PSC holds first work session on proposed Stark County wind farm

North Dakota Public Service Commission members (from left) Randy Christmann, Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk listen during a work session on the proposed Brady Wind Energy Center in Stark County on Friday, May 6, 2016, at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

BISMARCK -- For the first time Friday, members of the state Public Service Commission provided insight into their opinions of the 87-turbine wind farm proposed for southern Stark County.

The PSC held its first work session on the proposed 150-megawatt Brady Wind Energy Center at its offices in Bismarck, and overall expressed support for the project despite a few apprehensions.

“I overall support the project,” commissioner Brian Kalk said. “There are some concerns that I have that we are going to have to work through.”

The PSC heard 15 hours of testimony and public comment regarding the project proposed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources on March 31 at Dickinson City Hall. Now, the commission has to sift through all of the exhibits, testimony and information received on that day.

Friday was the first time Kalk, commission Chair Julie Fedorchak and commissioner Randy Christmann were able to review late file exhibits from NextEra and the Concerned Citizens of Stark County, a local group opposed to the project.

“I thought today that we actually got a lot accomplished,” Kalk said.

He said he believes after Friday that everyone is overall in support of the project.

“I think that’s what I heard Julie say today too. I think that’s what I heard Randy say today too,” Kalk said. “Overall, we are all in support of it. But we all have little things that we need to carve out to get to where we are completely ready to cast the vote.”

Even though Kalk believes the PSC is in support, he and Christmann did speak to those watching via an Internet broadcast, saying commissioners are not fond of the way wind companies are deciding on locations to place turbines by “checkerboarding,” where non-participating landowners are embedded in the project with participating landowners.

“When you bring this kind of project with this kind of checkerboard, expect this kind of discussion,” he said to those watching via an Internet broadcast. “I support this project. I do support it. The issue I have right now is the non-participating landowners embedded in this project.”

Christmann added he also finds the industry frustrating with how they pick locations.

“It makes me feel like the payment is maybe too generous to participating landowners and not generous enough to non-participating landowners,” he said.

Christmann said he was concerned with the proximity of turbines to non-participating landowners when there was land that could be used closer to Highway 22.

“Speaking for me, I would rather put them closer to the highway and impact motorists instead of impacting non-participating landowners,” he said.

PSC attorney Zachary Pelham said he’d contact Stark County commissioners about the setback rules and present their answers to the PSC during its next work session at 1:30 p.m. MDT May 19 at its Bismarck offices. The public can watch the session via an Internet broadcast at psc.nd.gov.

Kalk, however, said not to expect a hasty decision on the project’s fate.

“There’s not going to a decision next week,” Kalk said.

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