Breaking Wind

•Wind energy under scrutiny this session

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor

A bill that was passed through the senate recently originally had included a two-year moratorium  on approving an application for siting permits for a wind energy conversion facility. But after it came out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 21, that portion was altered.

The new provision says “Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the commission may not approve any application for a certificate of site compatibility for a wind energy conversion facility until August 1, 2019, unless the commission determines additional generation is needed for consumers in this state.”

The new language essentially states that it is at the discretion of the commission based on the needs of the consumers, but it isn’t a complete a stop of wind production. The responsibility of approving such permits is left up to the Public Service Commission.

Sen. Bill Bowman from District 39, who is not on the committee, told the Herald that the conversations about wind energy can be difficult. He said if you have a turbine on your land you probably like the wind farms, but if you don’t, and have to look at them, you probably don’t like them. It’s a very polarizing issue, as evident by the lengthy and somewhat divisive hearings in Stark and Hettinger counties in the past year.

When asked why the provision was removed, Bowman thought it might be because the legislators heard from wind farm proponents.

“I suppose fifty-some lobbyists from the wind farms [that] came up there, and decided to change their mind,” he said. “There’s pro’s and con’s to it.”

But he isn’t sure how he would have voted if he were in the committee, citing his need to have all the information.

“If I would have been in the committee and could have heard the whole argument of for it or against it, I might have supported it, but those things you have to be so careful with, because just your own gut feeling doesn’t mean your always right.”

Another legislator from District 39, Rep. Denton Zubke, said he didn’t like the provision.

“I’m not in favor of it, just so you know,” he said.

Wind farms have been growing in numbers all around the state in recent years. In Hettinger and Adams county, over 100 turbines over the last two years through the Thunder Spirit (Adams County) and the Brady Wind II (Hettinger County). And ALLETE Clean Energy Inc. recently announced an $85 million expansion project slated to start in May 2018.

The counties have benefited in both the long-term and short term. The projects brought hundreds of jobs through the construction process and have secured many full-time positions for operations. The counties will also see a boost in property taxes for the duration of the wind farm operations.

But wind power is a competitor of another energy producing source in this state, coal.

So as a part of the bill that was passed though the senate, a two-year study will be conducted to determine the long-term energy outlook for the state.

Section 2 of the bill states that “during the 2017-19 interim, the legislative management shall consider studying the long-term energy plan for the state.” The study includes “coal, wind, and hydroelectric energy sources” and calls for the “analysis of the sustainability and reliability of various sources.”

The study also includes tax implications and how revenue from the energy resources are distributed.

Other bills to be introduced during this session regarding wind energy include HB 1181 that deals with land owners and land leases, and HB 1378 which requires turbines to install the Aircraft Lighting Detection Systems (ALDS) by Dec. 31, 2019.

The new lighting system is radar based, and only turns on when an aircraft enters the airspace. Currently, turbines have constant blinking red lights.

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