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Stutsman County zoning board considers $350 million wind farm

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JAMESTOWN -- The first wind farm project planned for Stutsman County will seek approval under the county’s zoning ordinance Wednesday, according to Casey Bradley, county auditor and chief operating officer for Stutsman County.

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The zoning ordinance was originally passed in 2009, updated in late 2013 and details the allowable locations for the wind turbines and required road maintenance and upgrades.

The request by Geronimo Wind Energy for the Courtenay Wind farm is the first to fall under the regulations.

Plans for the Courtenay wind farm include erecting 100 turbines, each with a 2-megawatt capacity. The project’s estimated cost is $350 million, and the wind farm would be in northeast Stutsman County.

The plan the zoning board will consider includes 127 possible locations for wind turbines, of which 100 will ultimately be selected. Geronimo Wind has paid the application fee of $500 per possible turbine location to Stutsman County, Bradley said.

“They have some variance requests and we need to verify they meet the conditions of the permit,” Bradley said. “This is a public hearing, so the public can give input.”

Bradley said the hearing will also address some setback issues where wind turbines are planned closer than regulations allow to occupied homes or property lines.

“They have permission from adjacent landowners as part of the contracts for the locations where they are asking for a variance,” he said.

The county conditional use permit is among the last steps before project construction. The wind farm was approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission on Nov. 12. The electricity generated by the wind farm could power as many as 60,000 homes. The electricity will be sold to Xcel Energy.

“The plan for right now is to begin construction as soon as we can get on the roads,” said Betsy Engelking, vice president of development for Geronimo Wind. “As soon as we get out of the mud season.”

Engelking said the first step is to improve the roads in the area to handle the heavy construction equipment used to erect the wind turbines. Estimates for the cost of the road work on the Courtenay Wind project weren’t available, but Geronimo spent as much as $5 million on roads in other wind farm projects, she said.

“We upgrade the roads at the beginning of the project and fix up any damage we do during the project,” Engelking said. “We always leave the roads better at the end than we found them.”

Bradley said the plans for road upgrades included mostly gravel township roads, many of which would receive “significant” upgrades. The county also will require Geronimo Wind Energy to create an escrow account to guarantee the roads will be maintained through the project.

After the roads are completed, construction will start on the wind turbines. Engelking estimated the turbine construction phase would be complete by October. The turbines are then tested and brought online one at a time.

“We want to be completely online by the end of the year,” she said. “The North Dakota tax credit expires at the end of the year.”

Projects completed this year are eligible for tax benefits from the state. Those credits may not be available for projects completed in 2015.

 
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