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FNS File Photo A wind farm is shown near Kulm. More wind energy is coming to southwest North Dakota in 2014 with the Thunder Spirit Wind farm planned near Hettinger.

Southwest ND wind development grows: Hettinger wind farm to boost MDU’s wind energy portfolio

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Anyone who’s spent a day in North Dakota knows it’s windy here, which is why energy companies are investing in wind farms throughout the state, including a new wind farm in southwest North Dakota near Hettinger.

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“There’s about five projects in the state going on right now,” said Mike Fladeland, manager of energy business development for the North Dakota Department of Commerce in Bismarck. “By the end of another year or two, we should have a little bit — we should have over two gigawatts of wind-generated power in the state.”

North Dakota has high wind energy potential — sixth in the nation — and ranks 11th for actual production.

“It’s good wind potential, and that’s just a matter of geography and the weather,” Fladeland said. “It’s kind of like the oil industry, where it was just laid in our lap.”

At the beginning of the decade it was tough to drive down Interstate 94 without seeing wind turbine parts being shipped.

But a federal tax credit program expired recently, temporarily slowing development, Fladeland said.

“There was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not the production tax credit at the federal level was going to be renewed,” Fladeland said.

But the state has since stepped in and created its own tax breaks for wind development, Fladland said.

“In the state of North Dakota, we have property tax incentives, sales tax — there’s a sales tax exemption on equipment that is used in wind farm development, anything that goes into the wind farm receives that sales tax exemption,” Fladeland said.

Montana-Dakota Utilities is planning to purchase 105 megawatts of wind energy from the Thunder Spirit Wind project in Adams County, bringing their totals to 20 percent renewable, MDU spokesman Mark Hanson said.

“That contract will provide our customers with stable pricing over that 25-year contract that we signed,” Hanson said.

The company owns windmills near Rhame and Baker, Mont.

“We had access to some turbines that were extra from a larger project, so we got them at a good price,” Hanson said. “The locations were very close to our transmission lines that we owned so it wasn’t a lot of infrastructure to install to connect to the transmission lines.”

There has been controversy concerning birds dying when flying into wind turbines, and whether they’re more dangerous than oil development.

Ducks Unlimited’s Bismarck office conducted a study where it banded more than 200 breeding female mallard ducks during mating season near a wind farm in 2009-10, and the threat to them was minimal, said Tanner Gue, conservation specialist with Ducks Unlimited

“We observed one collision mortality confirmed with a female mallard out of quite a few marked birds, over 200 marked birds,” Gue said. “It was only a two-year telemetry study and you’d have to be careful what you infer from that, but for that particular study we thought that collision isn’t that big of a deal for a breeding duck.”

Other studies need to be completed on other types of birds, and what could possible deter these animals from flying into the wind turbines in the first place.

During the Ducks Unlimited study, there were some unmarked birds that flew into wind turbines, Gue said.

As wind, oil and natural gas development continues to grow in North Dakota, and the state’s coal industry continues to thrive, it underscores North Dakota’s all-of-the-above energy policy.

“We have everything other than nuclear and solar,” Fladeland said. “There’s just strong support for all forms of energy development.”

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Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206
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