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Stark County Zoning Commission approves Sunflower wind project

The Stark County zoning commission approved the permitting for a wind energy project that will include up to 55 wind turbines across Stark and Morton counties.

About 25 percent of the farm will be in Stark County and the other will be in Morton County. The wind farm — Stark County’s first — will cover a total of 11,000 acres.

The farm will connect with an existing Western Area Power Authority power line, so it won’t add any overhead lines. All connections from the turbines to the transmission line will be underground.

Basin Electric will purchase the power produced by the farm.

This is just one step in the county, state and federal regulatory process Infinity Wind Power is going through to completely permit the project. And as developer Infinity Wind Power senior project manager Casey Willis told commissioners who asked what would happen if a federal or state agency later denied the project they had approved, “it’s all or nothing.”

The North Dakota Public Service Commission, for example, will review the permit application, as will the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Morton County also has zoning jurisdiction over its 75 percent of the farm.

The company applied for permits for “up to 25” windmills because the number of turbines will vary based on what model Infinity picks — that market is very competitive, and the company hasn’t nailed down a turbine manufacturer yet.

Commissioner Jay Elkin brought up concerns over road impacts, and Willis said the company tries to leave roads as good as they were before a project.

Nonetheless, a stipulation of the approval is ongoing monitoring and maintenance of affected roads in coordination with the county roads superintendent.

Infinity also has two other wind power projects proposed for North Dakota, in Mercer and Oliver counties.

Willis said Infinity is planning on beginning construction in early 2015 and having the farm commercially operational by the end of that year.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in North Dakota, there are 20 existing wind energy plants and 13 on the way.