A large wind farm is in the planning stages for southwestern Stutsman County and northwestern LaMoure County, according to Thomas Von Bische, project manager for NextEra Energy.

Von Bishche told the Stutsman County Commission Tuesday the project is in the preliminary planning stages with no set timeline for the start of construction or the model or capacity of the wind turbines.

"We haven't had a hard look at what the project looks like," he said. "We started the land lease for the project in October of 2019."

The preliminary planning includes a large area encompassing 13 townships in Stutsman County and 12 in LaMoure County, von Bische said. NextEra plans on applying to operate up to 500 megawatts of electrical generating capacity for the project, although the actual size of the project is yet to be determined.

"It will be bigger than most in North Dakota," he said. "There are some larger in South Dakota."

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Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, said the announcement was great news for the region. Brandenburg has also been an active advocate in the North Dakota Legislature in favor of wind energy.

"A lot of people have signed up for this project," he said. "It feels like something big is going to happen."

Brandenburg said the area is already home to the Edgeley/Kulm wind farm. That project was the first in North Dakota and is operated by NextEra Energy.

"I think they are finding people are more accepting of wind energy in LaMoure and Stutsman counties," he said. "There are other places in the state that are less accepting."

Von Bische said the area also is a great location for a wind farm, although connecting to the national power grid can be a problem.

"You have some great wind resources through Stutsman County," he told the Stutsman County Commission Tuesday. "Historically, the challenge is getting it (the electricity) out of here."

Establishing how the new wind farm will connect to the grid is one of the details yet to be worked out, von Bische said. Other issues to resolve before construction include additional analysis of the wind patterns and geography of the area and environmental studies.

NextEra operates 128 wind farms across the United States and 15 in North Dakota. According to its website, it employs 309 people in North Dakota and makes property tax payments of $3.4 million and land lease payments of $6.8 million in the state annually.

Brandenburg estimated this project would pay about $2 million in property taxes and about $2.5 million in land lease payments in Stutman and LaMoure counties if constructed.

"The project has a large footprint and is a large investment in the area," he said.

Von Bische said NextEra will keep the Stutsman County Commission informed on the project and would be back to apply for a county permit when more details are in place.

"It will take some time," Brandenburg said, "but when they meet with the county commissioners, it is moving forward."