PSC approves Brady Wind project in Stark County
BISMARCK -- An 87-turbine wind farm will be a reality for southern Stark County by year’s end.
The Public Service Commission unanimously approved the long-debated Brady Wind Energy Center I as well as its corresponding 19-mile transmission line on Thursday afternoon.
The $250 million project by NextEra Energy Resources, which will provide 150 megawatts of power for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, faced stiff opposition and was the second iteration of the project proposed in the county.
“We worked really hard on this project and we listened,” PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak said. “I’m happy to support this at this time.”
NextEra expects construction to begin this month, with the project scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
“We are pleased with the PSC’s decision to permit the Brady I Wind Energy Center,” NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner said. “Today’s decision is a result of months of working in partnership with the local community to find a project that addresses both the needs of the community as well as the demand for clean, renewable energy.”
The PSC’s decision ended 15 months of debate among Stark County landowners and public officials about the future of wind energy in the county.
Tom Reichert, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens of Stark County, which opposed the project, said even though the group is disappointed in the PSC’s decision, it will continue to provide input to other citizens in other communities that are concerned about wind farms.
He said that mostly there is a lot of frustration on the opposition's side.
“We worked really hard and we’re still frustrated that Stark County did such a poor job,” he said.
Reichert added that the group is still actively seeking a lawsuit against Stark County for what they claim was a violation of opening meeting protocol stemming from a December 2015 Stark County Commission meeting, in which the project was approved.
The wind farm’s genesis began in March 2015 when NextEra applied for a similar application under Dickinson Wind LLC. That project would have placed wind turbines between Richardton and Gladstone along Interstate 94 with a 33-mile transmission line that would have ran south of I-94 toward Belfield. Dickinson Wind also would have included 87 turbines and produced up to 150 megawatts of power.
However, NextEra withdrew the similarly priced project after the Stark County Commission rejected its application in May 2015 following significant landowner pushback.
NextEra, after looking at alternate locations in the area, applied for a conditional use permit in July for two tracts of land in southern Stark County for wind information towers. The company then started eyeing northern Hettinger County for the second phase of the project.
Brady Wind I and Brady Wind II -- a 72-turbine, 150-megawatt wind farm in northern Hettinger County still under consideration by the PSC -- each gained momentum after NextEra held meetings with landowners in the area and garnered enough people interested in being involved with the project.
Brady Wind II was unanimously approved by the Hettinger County Commission and Planning and Zoning Board on April 8. Two months later on June 7, the PSC listened to 10 hours of testimony at New England’s Memorial Hall. The PSC’s first work session for Brady Wind II is at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Bismarck.
In November, NextEra hosted an open house informational meeting for the public to speak on the proposal of the two wind farms. A month later, in December, a group of around 50 people gathered in Schefield to discuss why the wind farms should not be in their communities.
It was the beginning of months of passionate pleas by the opposition for their neighbors and officials to deny the project.
Some of the concerns focused on the impact to nature, home appraisals, sound, animals -- such as bald eagle and golden eagle nesting areas -- and disturbance of views.
On Dec. 22, the Stark County Commission voted 3-2 to approve Brady Wind I, following a 5-3 split decision by the county’s planning and zoning board.
The Concerned Citizens of Stark County filed a lawsuit against the Stark County Commission and Planning and Zoning Board on Jan. 27, which was dismissed in March just days before the PSC heard more than 15 hours of testimony on the project on March 31 -- the longest wind project hearing in state history.
The group claimed the commission did not listen to all public input and that the room was not a large enough size to house all of the people who were interested in listening and providing comment during the meeting.
PSC Commissioner Randy Christmann said it was unclear if the county commissioners didn’t have a fair process because there was no evidence presented that he said he could “wrap (his) arms around.”
“If we rely on the counties do this but they are not doing their job and again, I don’t know if they did or they didn’t, but that probably takes some consideration in the future,” Christmann said. “We need to make sure, if we rely on them that they have the resources and the wherewithal to do a good job of making those decisions.”
After hearing from both sides of the issue, the PSC began holding work sessions in May to discuss their questions or concerns with the testimony. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk said he supported the project during a May 6 work session.