NEW ENGLAND, N.D. –Wind speeds reached 20 mph in New England on Tuesday. It was fitting for a conversation about wind energy at Memorial Hall.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission listened to testimony and comments by NextEra Energy Resources and the public about the company’s proposed 72-turbine, 150-megawatt wind farm, the Brady Wind Energy Center II.
“We are out here because we want to hear from you,” Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann said. “My goal is to not to see it get built and it’s not to see it not get built.”
If approved, the $250 million project in northern Hettinger County will connect to the proposed 87-turbine Brady Wind I wind farm proposed for southern Stark County, which the PSC is still considering.
The previous PSC hearing for Brady Wind I was held March 30 in Dickinson and lasted a staggering 15 hours, the longest wind project hearing in state history. The Brady Wind II hearing lasted more than 10 hours.
Commissioner Brian Kalk said he believes NextEra came into Tuesday’s hearing with a better idea of the questions the PSC would ask them and came more prepared.
One example of that was the project’s maps positioned around the room, which were an improvement from the maps commissioners had to squint to look at during the Brady Wind I hearing.
Additionally, NextEra presented a system recently approval by the Federal Aviation Administration that would eliminate the constant blinking red lights atop the wind towers, which are used to warn pilots of the structures. The company said it wants to incorporate the Aircraft Detection Light System in the Brady Wind projects.
The ADLS uses a radar system so that the lights only blink when an aircraft is within a certain vicinity. They remain off when no aircraft is in the area.
PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak said she felt like NextEra trying to incorporate the ADLS was a positive for the project.
NextEra said because the system just gained FAA approval, it may take up to two years after the project is operational to have the ADLS, or a similar technology, in place.
“Do you really need two years,” Fedorchak asked. “We would sure like this being used as soon as it’s turned on.”
Melissa Hochmuth, project director for NextEra, said the company would try its best to have the technology in place as soon as it becomes available.
Brady Wind I and Brady Wind II could be operational as soon as December 2016, she said.
If construction is not finished by December and the turbines aren’t operational, NextEra will be fined by Basin Electric Power Cooperative for not fulfilling their end of the power purchase agreement.
During the construction phase, Brady Wind II would have 200 workers, not including those constructing Brady Wind I.
After construction, there would be seven full-time employees for Brady Wind II.
Neighbors on each side of the issue
No one could deny the addition of jobs wasn’t a positive. However, residents were able to voice their concerns on a number of other issues, including the noise of the blades, the aesthetic of the towers, the damage to the soil from the concrete foundations, the impact on wildlife and the increase in electric costs, among other things.
Lea Dorner, of rural New England, made an emotional plea for the wind farm to not be approved because she not only felt like it took away from the beauty of North Dakota, but that it didn’t positively impact her life because the wind farm would be near her property.
Dorner said she has had to place a for-sale sign on her property because she doesn’t think she will be able to live in the area if the wind farm is approved.
Chet Steier, who lives north of New England, said he supports the wind farm and believes people are afraid of change, and that’s why they are opposing it.
“When people don’t like change, they go through a lot of trouble to stop it,” he said.
One person who originally supported the project changed his opinion after interactions with NextEra employees on his land.
Michael Madler, a farmer from the New England area, said he and his brother deliberated for a while on whether or not they wanted to participate in the project.
After they decided to participate, Madler said on multiple occasions trucks were on his land, in his fields, digging up the soil with their tires and after multiple apologies and conversations with NextEra representatives, it continued.
“We don’t like to complain, but we don’t like the way it’s going right now,” he said. “I just don’t feel the project fits us.”
While the lease has already been signed and the PSC’s hands are tied on the matter, Madler is one of the only participating landowners who had a negative opinion of his experience with NextEra.
Jon Wert, a farmer in New England, has been opposed to the project from the beginning.
Wert and his wife moved into their new house in January–their dream house, he calls it–and he said his view of nearby buttes will be obscured by the turbines.
“I’m very concerned about property values,” Wert said. “My biggest concern is the value of my home.”
The PSC has held multiple work sessions to discuss the exhibits and testimony provided on Brady Wind I. Fedorchak said she believes they are getting close to reaching a decision on that project.
Now that a public hearing has been had for Brady Wind II, work sessions can be scheduled for commissioners to discuss what they heard Tuesday.
The Brady Wind II’s first work session will likely be scheduled during a PSC meeting today in Bismarck. The public is invited to watch the work session online at http://psc.nd.gov.