Downsized N.D. wind farm approved on split vote

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Public Service Commission issued a permit that has downsized what had been planned as the largest wind farm in North Dakota.

In North Dakota, almost 20 percent of electricity generation comes from wind power. These turbines, near Edgeley, are among the state's 2,140-megawatt wind power capacity. New wind farms are in development to take advantage of tax credits that are being phased out. File photo.
A row of wind turbines towers over the landscape near Edgeley, N.D., Sept. 16, 2003. There's a new harvest taking place on the North Dakota prairie this fall. Look to the western horizon here and see 41 glistening white pinwheels turning on the Coteau Ridge, capturing the breeze with swinging arms and spinning it into electricity that's shipped out on high-voltage lines. (AP Photo/The Forum, Darren Gibbins)
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BISMARCK - The North Dakota Public Service Commission issued a permit that has downsized what had been planned as the largest wind farm in North Dakota.

Glacier Ridge Wind Farm had been planned as a 300-megawatt, 88 turbine wind farm in Barnes County. The PSC approved a phase 1 site plan Dec. 7 on a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Randy Christmann dissenting. Any site plan for a second phase of the project would be considered separately by the PSC.

Phase 1 includes up to 53 turbines generating up to 179 megawatts of electricity, he said. Glacier Ridge will be located north of U.S. Interstate 94 and west of N.D. Highway 32 in northeastern Barnes County. No cost estimates for the original project or the phase 1 segment now approved were available.

A call to Glacier Ridge's parent company, Renewable Energy Systems, was not returned Thursday.

"Glacier Ridge's mad dash to begin construction without a plan for completion is anything but orderly development," Christmann wrote in his dissenting opinion, which was included as part of the record of the vote.


Construction schedule

The project plans, discussed at a PSC hearing held in Valley City in September, called for excavating for foundations for some turbines yet in 2016. Further construction would be delayed until possibly 2018 with the project not scheduled to go online until December 2019.

By beginning construction in 2016, Glacier Ridge could lock in production tax credits that might not be available if all the construction is done in 2018, Christmann said.

A revised site plan map, submitted to the PSC in November, showed 20 locations where the company planned to dig foundations before the end of 2016.

Christmann said that could pose problems for reclamation if the project is not complete.

"The work would not trip the requirement for reclamation," he said. "There would be no one required to reclaim (the foundation excavation) if nothing else is built."

That is only one of Christmann's concerns.

"They still don't have all the easements for the entire project," he said. "They don't have a plan to transmit the power to market and they don't have a plan who they will sell the power to."


Commissioner Brian Kalk said he was satisfied with Glacier Ridge's effort at negotiating the sale of electricity and the interconnectivity with the power grid.

He did express concerns for the lack of easements for some turbine locations. At the time of the hearing, the company said it was working on securing some easements that had expired. The PSC did not consider the project until that issue was resolved.

"It was dead in the water until they had all the easements in place," Kalk said.

Kalk said the company brought in a revised site plan that broke the project into two phases in November. Easements for turbines in phase 1, located in the southern portion of the project footprint, had already been obtained.

With that in place, Kalk said he and Commissioner Julie Fedorchak felt that the project met the requirements defined in North Dakota law.

"We need to hold them to the same standards as we used for other wind projects," Kalk said. "They have met the criteria we have set."

Christmann agreed that Glacier Ridge met the technical requirements of the law.

"We are also charged with seeing that the energy needs of North Dakota are met in a timely fashion," he said.


Christmann said he is not opposed to wind energy and has voted for wind projects in the past.

"I think we've reached the point where we've added all the wind (energy) we can add," he said, speaking of the electrical grid capacity in North Dakota.

Kalk disagreed.

"There is a market for wind energy," he said. "There is room for wind on the grid and our energy needs are still growing."

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