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PSC approves NextEra's $153M wind farm near Bismarck

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BISMARCK – North Dakota utility regulators gave a Florida company their blessing Wednesday to build a $153 million wind farm near the capital city.

The 100-megawatt Oliver III Wind Energy Center will sit about 13 miles northwest of Bismarck and will consist of up to 48 turbines on more than 14,000 acres of land in Morton and Oliver counties, with all but one turbine in Morton County.

The Public Service Commission voted 3-0 Wednesday to grant a site permit for developer Oliver Wind III, a NextEra Energy Resources subsidiary based in Juno Beach, Fla.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said when he first saw plans for the project and how close it was to housing developments and prime development property, “I thought this was going to be a riot.”

But he and other commissioners commended the Morton County Commission for how it addressed setbacks and other concerns, saying, “I think they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Only one property owner raised concerns about the project during a public hearing in Mandan, leading to the relocation of one turbine site, they said.

The project comes amid a boom in wind energy development as the state’s oil industry struggles with low crude prices. Last week, the PSC approved the 87-turbine, $250 million Brady Wind Energy Center I in Stark County, and the panel is considering a permit for the second phase of that project with 72 turbines in Hettinger County.

The state currently has 1,174 wind turbines in operation with a total generating capacity of 2,134 megawatts, according to PSC data.  Permits have been issued for an additional 1,962 megawatts, including the Brady I and Oliver III projects, with more than 460 megawatts currently under construction.

Commissioner chairwoman Julie Fedorchak urged counties to make sure ordinances are in place for wind facilities before developers approach them with projects. Under Morton County’s standards, the Oliver III turbines will be set back at least 1,400 feet from occupied homes and 679 feet from the property lines of non-participating landowners.

Commissioner Brian Kalk said the Federal Aviation Administration raised concerns that the turbines, with a hub height of up to 262 feet, could create line-of-sight radar issues with the Bismarck Airport. The company agreed to work with the FAA if additional radar systems are needed, he said.

Electricity generated by the turbines will be purchased by MinnKota Power Cooperative to supply its customers in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The PSC also approved an $11.4 million, 230-kilovolt transmission line to support the wind farm.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.