PSC approves wind project in split vote
BISMARCK — In a split vote Thursday, the North Dakota Public Service Commission approved a wind turbine farm in Adams County that eventually could provide enough power for more than 50,000 homes.
Thunder Spirit Wind LLC filed its initial project notice in August 2011, proposing up to 75 wind turbines with a generating capacity of up to 150 megawatts about two miles northeast of Hettinger.
The project’s average annual output was estimated at 676,710 megawatt-hours per year, or enough to power 51,689 homes, based on the average annual consumption for North Dakota residential utility customers in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The three-member PSC initially approved a siting order for the project Oct. 9, with Commissioner Randy Christmann dissenting. He voted against an amended siting order again on Thursday, reiterating his earlier reasons for opposing it.
Christmann said the state is already “far in excess” of the objective set by the 2007 Legislature of having 10 percent of all electricity sold in the state come from renewable or recycled energy sources by 2015.
And while additional economic activity in that rural area of North Dakota is important, “it is not a compelling reason for this Commission to allow imposition of this significant additional generation cost” on ratepayers or taxpayers, he wrote in his dissent last October.
Christmann noted Thursday that Montana-Dakota Utilities has agreed to purchase the power from the wind project.
“We know that a large part of this is going to be on the bills of North Dakota ratepayers,” he said.
Commission Chairman Brian Kalk supported the amended order, saying the project developers met all of the PSC’s siting requirements and that Thursday wasn’t the right time to discuss whether the additional generation costs should be included in MDU’s rates.
“I certainly have frustration about putting too much wind in the grid, but I figure the best spot for that discussion is during the appropriate rate cases,” he said.
The project was amended in May because the Federal Aviation Administration initially objected to the siting of the turbines closest to the Hettinger airport. Thunder Spirit Wind appealed the FAA’s objections and won, but new turbine locations in the western area of the project prompted concerns by one set of neighbors. The PSC set a public hearing but withdrew it after the concerns were worked out between the neighbors and the company, officials said Thursday.
The amended order approved Thursday allows for 18 new turbine locations and the shifting of 25 previously approved locations, for a total of 43 turbines with a generating capacity of 107.5 megawatts, Kalk said. Christmann noted that Thunder Spirit Wind will still be allowed to add turbines to reach 150 megawatts if it updates its noise and flicker-shadow studies.