SOUTH OF DICKINSON—A group of antelope went about their business Tuesday morning with little to no care of the workers hoisting large steel materials just a few yards away from where they were grazing.
Construction on Brady Wind I, an 87-turbine wind farm in southern Stark County, is 65 percent complete. Brady Wind II, a 72-turbine wind farm in northern Hettinger County, is in the midst of having concrete poured for the foundation of the turbines.
Melissa Hochmuth, project director for NextEra Energy Resources—the Florida-based company building the wind farms—said the construction phase for the 159 wind turbines has evolved fast because the construction team are veterans of the process. She said the company has built more than 100 wind farms across the U.S.
"Now, I think a lot (of landowners) share in the amazement of just how quickly the construction process goes because it is such a well-oiled machine," Hochmuth said. "I mean, the crew out here with Dick Rausch, (NextEra) construction manager, have done this time and time again, and they are very experienced in putting up these projects."
Rausch said there is a lot of activity daily on the roads and near the construction sites because 280 workers are aiming to finish the project in just six short months after both projects were approved over the summer. Hochmuth said construction is slated to be completed by December.
Rausch estimated that there 11,000 to 12,000 truckloads of turbine components and 8,000 truck trips just for the concrete.
Each turbine has a foundation around 8 feet deep and filled with 325 cubic yards of concrete and 52,000 pounds of rebar before the tower can be erected.
The towers are placed in stages with the last piece being the blades, which were brought in from Grand Forks, Iowa and Texas.
The nacelle, which houses the generator in the turbine, is one of the last pieces to the 431-foot tall turbine and will weigh more than 265 tons once completed.
During construction, local vendors from Dickinson and New England were contracted.
Black Hills Trucking has around 10 workers who have been doing onsite trucking for the projects.
Eric McLain, a dispatcher for Black Hills Trucking, said with the slowdown in oil activity, they have had to cut their staff from around 100 to 70 and the wind farm construction came at the right time.
"It sure has helped out a lot," he said. "It keeps our guys busy."
Though workers are dealing with such large materials, Rausch said there has only been minor incidents during construction.
"Safety is our No. 1 priority. It always has been," he said. "Safety is a huge issue and we've managed to do it pretty safely most of the time."
The 18.2-mile transmission line heading west of the project that'll transmit the power generated to Basin Electric Power Cooperative customers will be completed in a few weeks.
Basin Electric has a power purchase agreement with NextEra. The 87 General Electric 1.7-megawatt turbines will generate enough power to service 45,000 homes, according to NextEra.
'A long road'
Teams work throughout the day and night, battling the outdoor elements.
Rausch said if winds are above 25 mph, they have to halt construction because of the wind.
"It's kind of ironic," he said laughing.
While there are a few more months until the project starts sending power to the grid, Hochmuth said seeing the towers has been rewarding after the years of trying to bring a wind farm to the Dickinson area.
In March 2015, NextEra applied for a similar project, dubbed Dickinson Wind LLC, that would have been located between Richardton and Gladstone but withdrew their plans after the Stark County Commission rejected the application in May 2015.
After reworking the plan and submitting an application for Brady Wind I and Brady Wind II, they were approved by both Stark County and Hettinger County commissioners.
During the 15-hour long Public Service Commission meeting for Brady Wind I, there was a sizeable amount of opposition from the Concerned Citizens of Stark County, which urged the PSC to deny the application. After multiple work sessions, the PSC unanimously approved Brady Wind I, with the approval of Brady Wind II following.
"It's been a long road and to see these towers is pretty special," she said.