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Landowners discuss 87-turbine NextEra wind project in southern Stark County

RURAL DICKINSON -- Landowners offered differing and even split opinions Wednesday night during an open house for an 87-turbine wind project proposed for southern Stark County and a potential second project to be located in northern Hettinger County.

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Two men's fingers come together while tracing the path of the Brady Wind Energy Center project, an 87-turbine wind farm proposed by NextEra Energy Resources for a large swath of for southern Stark County during an open house at the Schefield Community Center on Wednesday night. (Press Photo by Dustin Monke)

RURAL DICKINSON -- Landowners offered differing and even split opinions Wednesday night during an open house for an 87-turbine wind project proposed for southern Stark County and a potential second project to be located in northern Hettinger County.

Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources’ hosted the informational meeting at the Schefield Community Center, just north of where many of the wind towers would be placed as part of its two-part project, named the Brady Wind Energy Center 1 and 2.

“Well, there are a lot of goods and bads that come with this project,” said Stark County landowner Elven Kaufman said as he looked over a map of the proposed wind farm. “But we need to get electricity and someone always has to sacrifice something for it.”

Brady Wind 1 is proposed to run along the southern Stark County line between the Enchanted Highway and west of Highway 22. Brady Wind 2 is not platted yet, but is proposed for the northwest section of Hettinger County, largely running along the Stark County line. NextEra plans to complete the project in two separate phases, beginning on the Stark County side and moving into Hettinger County, with a goal of completion by the end of 2016.

Company employees attempted to explain how the 87-turbine project will benefit specific landowners and the community as a whole, stating the company would pay out $24 million in landowner payments, add $20 million in tax revenue to Stark County and provide renewable energy for approximately 45,000 homes when the power is sold to Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

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NextEra project manager Melissa Hochmuth said after a similar proposed wind farm between Taylor and Gladstone was struck down by the Stark County Commission earlier this year, employees regrouped to find an answer.

“We just came to a solution that the best choice would be to find a new location because that seemed to be the biggest concern,” Hochmuth said. “And so we looked for other good wind areas and areas where we could find additional supportive landowners.”

She said the company chose a more remote location than the previous project, in hopes of creating less of a disturbance to homeowners who expressed discontent with the previous proposal.

Hochmuth said the company is working with approximately 50 landowners now that the project has pivoted to southern Stark County.

Taylor resident Pete Solemsaas said he is in favor of the project and would directly benefit if it were to go through. While he has an idea of how many turbines are proposed for his lot, he abstained from stating how many could potentially be located on the 320 acres he owns in Stark County.

“I looked at this project from an income and energy standpoint,” Solemsaas said.

Some at the meeting said they are worried about the extensive length of power-purchase agreements, which vary in length but generally are 30-year leases. Sollemsaas said he looks at the argument from the opposite angle.

“Yes, it’s a long commitment, but it’s also a long-term stream of income also,” Solemsaas said. While he likely won’t see returns on the turbines throughout the length of the lease, either his direct descendants or future property owners will, a selling point he believes could improve the cost of his home.

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However, Stark County resident Autumn Richard said she opposes the proposal.

Richard said she is unsure of how many turbines could be located within proximity to her family’s land. But by glancing at a map, she can tell that “it would be within eyesight.”

Richard said she’s personally against the project and believes the whole community should be skeptical due to NextEra’s lease agreement, which she said puts power into the hands of the company and strips it away from landowners.

“They (participating landowners) are giving up so much of their own rights that they don’t even know about,” Richard said. “There is so much that isn’t put into these or they are so loosely termed. I think the whole community would suffer.”

She said there is language in the contract about indefinite lease extensions and the ability for the operator to terminate the agreement at any time, which make her skeptical.

“The agreement is so biased, so skewed towards NextEra,” Richard said.

But Hochmuth said the company is not hiding any language from landowners, and even provides financial encouragement for individuals to present the document to an attorney for a more acute read.

“We want landowners to know what they are getting into before they sign these agreements,” Hochmuth said.

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Rural New England farmer and landowner Jon Wert said he is against the project for various reasons, including aesthetic purposes, noise pollution and the possibility of the turbines diminishing his property values.

“I can’t imagine having a 400-foot turbine on my property, when the tallest thing is a 25-foot structure right now,” Wert said.

He said the company has only proposed setting one turbine on his land, though a transmission line and generators could also run through his property.

Wert said he would refuse to let the company erect the turbine, though he is unsure if he would allow the less obtrusive transmission line or generators sit on his property if the project is approved by commissions from both Stark and Hettinger counties.

Hochmuth said the company doesn’t have a right to eminent domain, so all landowners involved have to consent to anything placed on their land.

“The landowners and county are allowing us to come in and build a project in the area, so without that support, we’re not going to be successful,” Hochmuth said.

Related Topics: DICKINSONSTARK COUNTY
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