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Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published November 13 2013

$350M wind farm approved in Stutsman County

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Public Service Commission on Wednesday approved a $350 million wind farm in Stutsman County after the project’s developer made changes to accommodate an aerial spraying business.

The Courtenay Wind Farm will encompass 21,000 acres with 100 wind turbines generating a total of 200 megawatts of electricity per hour that will be purchased by Northern States Power Co., a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy.

Geronimo Energy, the project’s developer, estimates the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power about 60,000 homes annually, said Mark Nisbet, North Dakota manager for Xcel Energy.

Earthwork on the site west of Wimbledon in northeastern Stutsman County will likely begin in early June, said Betsy Engelking, vice president of development for Edina, Minn.-based Geronimo Energy.

The company hopes to complete the project by the end of 2014 so it can capture a state income tax credit on top of the federal wind production tax credit, she said.

The Public Service Commission held a public hearing on the project July 12 in Jamestown. In a July 18 letter to the commission, Robert and Julie Sprague raised concerns that nine potential turbine locations and a meteorological tower within two miles of the runway of their aerial spraying business would affect the safety of airplane takeoffs and landings. They said they didn’t learn about the turbine locations until after the public hearing.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires wind farms to have a two-mile setback from public airstrips, but it has no such rule for private airstrips.

Still, PSC chairman Brian Kalk said he was concerned about the potential safety impacts to the spraying business. The commission accepted the late input from the Spragues – as well as additional concerns raised late by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission – and offered to quickly schedule another hearing. But Geronimo Energy ultimately decided to remove the nine sites from its layout of 136 potential turbine locations.

“We decided that it would be more prudent to withdraw those turbines than enter into additional proceedings,” Engelking said.

Robert Sprague said Wednesday he’s pleased with the approved site plan.

“My family is really happy for my safety, and it definitely satisfies our concerns,” he said.

With more developers tapping the state’s strong wind resource, and advancements in turbine technology improving the efficiency of projects, North Dakotans can expect to see a lot of wind development in the next year or two, Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said.

North Dakota currently has 1,672 megawatts of wind-power capacity in service and about 650 megawatts that PSC officials say appear likely to be developed in the near future: the Courtenay Wind Farm, the 205-megawatt Bison 4 Wind Project under construction in Oliver, Morton and Mercer counties, the 100-megawatt Thunder Spirit project near Hettinger and the 150-megawatt Border Winds project in Rolette and Towner counties.

“These are huge projects,” Fedorchak said. “So there’s a lot of issues to consider, a lot of balancing that needs to be done between the landowner’s rights, the company’s interest in trying to have a viable project and all the neighbors.”

Geronimo Energy currently has no projects pending in North Dakota, but “we have been working with some other areas in North Dakota to start some developments in the area,” Engelking said. Transmission lines scheduled to be installed in the state over the next five years should open up new areas to development, she said.

“In many cases, we’re waiting for some of these lines to be completed in order to site new projects,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Mike Nowatzki at

(701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com