BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota regulators on Thursday scheduled their first public hearing on another large wind power development, saying they expected it to attract debate as public scrutiny of the projects grows.
A subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, which operates five North Dakota wind projects capable of generating more than 680 megawatts of power, wants to build 62 wind turbines near Wilton in northern Burleigh County, about 25 miles north of Bismarck.
During its meeting Thursday, the state Public Service Commission scheduled a May 20 hearing at the Capitol to allow residents to review NextEra's plans. The wind-propelled turbines, set on top of massive steep towers that are more than 250 feet tall, would be capable of generating about 99 megawatts of electricity, according to regulatory filings.
Commissioner Tony Clark said he expects the public hearing to attract dozens of landowners who are concerned about how close the towers may be placed next to a road or someone's home. The state Capitol's largest hearing room, capable of holding more than 100 people, has been reserved.
North Dakota had almost no wind power development a decade ago, but in the last seven years developers have built more than 1,200 megawatts of electrical generating capacity.
"In theory, people talk about wind farms and they think, 'Wow, it's great,'" Clark said. "Now, people are seeing them, and they are realizing that they are an imposition on the landscape. And so, there's a little bit more interest in these projects up front."
Public scrutiny has increased as wind projects have sprouted across North Dakota during the last several years, especially along U.S. Highway 83 in central North Dakota.
"When they go up north between Bismarck and Minot ... they see them closer, and more of them," Commissioner Brian Kalk said. "They're just kind of taken aback a little bit."
After weeks of sometimes heated debate in Burleigh County, local officials recently adopted new wind farm policies that include requiring towers be located at least a mile from the Missouri River. Towers also must be at least 1,750 feet — about one-third of a mile — from the homes of property owners who have not leased their land for wind turbine placements.
Some county residents wanted a setback from homes of at least a half mile, or 2,640 feet.