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Where does the wind go: Adams Co. turbines may need more land

Stock Photo Wind turbines, like the ones shown here, may need more space in Adams County.

HETTINGER — “Wild is the wind,” jazz artist Nina Simone sang.

Indeed, building infrastructure around free-flowing wind for its energy potential can be just as unpredictable.

A $350 million wind turbine farm near Hettinger may expand to a larger area to generate electricity more efficiently, pending approval from state officials.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission will meet Wednesday in Bismarck to hear an energy company’s plan to move turbines to encompass land previously restricted by the federal government.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration would not allow Thunder Spirit Wind, LLC, to build turbines on certain stretches of land in Adams County’s Duck Creek and Holt townships. 

The FAA said that turbines would pose danger to planes coming through the area, said PSC public utility analyst Jerry Lein.

Because of this, Thunder Spirit restricted its 43-turbine wind farm plan to a smaller space, according to public documents.

In December, the government lifted a ban on construction on the area in question, which was based on unpublished plans for a future airport in Hettinger, according to Thunder Spirit,

Now that the FAA has given the go-ahead, Thunder Spirit selected larger turbines, which may need bigger expanses of land for maximum energy potential, PSC member Brian Kalk said.

“Getting the layout right will be a stepping stone to more wind power in the region,” Kalk said.

Representatives from Thunder Spirit and Tetra Tech, which has also worked on the wind farm project, did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Commission members will consider if changes to the original wind farm plan will negatively affect Adams County residents or the environment, as well as if resources would be used effectively.

They will choose between a previous plan that does not consider newly opened-up land, but moves turbines slightly, and one that does take new access into account.

Thunder Spirit had originally wanted to build 75 turbines in Adams County to supply 150 megawatts of power. But last October, the company signed a power purchase agreement with Montana-Dakota Utilities to supply less — 107.5 megawatts of power for a 25-year period.

Thunder Spirit anticipates that commercial operations on the wind farm will begin in October 2015. Two miles of access road have already been constructed near Hettinger.

Members of the public can submit comments and requests for a formal hearing by July 23. The commission may choose to decide on a turbine layout plan without a formal hearing.

Full maps of new turbine layout plans are available on the commission’s website, www.psc.nd.gov.

District 39 State Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, said he has been on board with Thunder Spirit’s plans since Adams County commissioners approved them.

However, he said he will await the results of the public comment period.

“I’ll be OK with it, as long as it’s what the people want,” Bowman said.

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