VALLEY CITY – Two competing wind projects for a high glacial ridge northeast of Valley City found little relief for their differences at a zoning meeting Thursday night.
Florida Power and Light plans to install 80 turbines starting late this spring, cranking out 200 megawatts for an as-yet unnamed purchaser, though Otter Tail Power plans a transmission project there.
These turbines would be the biggest in the industry at 2.5 megawatts and stand 420 high at the blade tip.
A local group under the name Peak Wind also is planning a project on the same ridge line and wanted the Barnes County Planning and Zoning Commission to set FPL’s turbines enough back from property lines so they don’t take wind from the Peak project area.
Other than a single demonstration turbine out on Interstate 94, these would be the first wind projects in the county. They would share a 22-mile boundary.
Landowners – many who already have lease deals signed with FPL – packed the small meeting room in the courthouse and urged the zoners to let FPL proceed as planned.
In the end, the zoners gave FPL a height variance and also a conditional use permit for a substation.
Turbines are an allowed use on agricultural land, so the zoners didn’t really have a handy legal tool to create the requested setbacks, even if they had wanted to.
Their recommended approval will go to the county commission before it’s final.
Peak Wind’s attorney, Brett Brudvik, asked the zoners to use the Minnesota Public Utilities’ standard. That standard sets turbines from three to five times the diameter of the rotor blades away from property lines so the next guy is clear of turbulence or wake from the whirling blades upwind.
Brudvik said FPL is using that spacing between turbines inside its project area in Barnes County and has adhered to even more stringent spacing for its Minnesota project.
“They have used this spacing before,” Brudvik said.
Rather than apply the spacing between turbines to the property line setbacks, FPL will set the towers just far enough away so they don’t fall across the property line if they topple.
Tom Factor, a spokesman for FPL, said if the zoners made them apply the five-rotor diameter spacing to property lines, some landowners wouldn’t have a tower on their land and he wondered if the entire project still would be feasible.
Sandy Burchill, a landowner who’s signed a lease with FPL for four turbines, asked if the county wanted the company “to leave us high and dry. We have an opportunity within our grasp – let’s go for it.”
Zoner Steve Ondracek said he wanted to make the situation as fair as possible for everyone and protect the wind rights of all landowners.
He said it would help if North Dakota, like Minnesota, had some guidelines for spacing.
“We’re out here on our own,” Ondracek.
FPL’s project will require approval from the state Public Service Commission because it exceeds the threshold of 100 megawatts for regulatory oversight.
FPL said the state has approved property line spacing for tower falldown elsewhere, without requiring spacing to protect downwind wind rights.
The company admitted, though, that there was no competing project for the PSC to consider.
The situation in Barnes County is deja vu of one in Dickey County, when two competing projects abutted wind rights of adjoining landowners.
FPL’s attorney Brian Bjella said those landowners lost the FPL project when the township created property line setbacks, similar to those proposed for Barnes County..
Brad Crabtree of Dickey County wrote a commentary on the issue and said the project died because Ottertail Power had regulatory problems with Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission and decided not to purchase the wind power.
Steve Winter, of rural Valley City, said he has family involved with both FPL and Peak Wind.
“I want both to succeed,” Winter said.
Ondracek said looking at the interests of both projects didn’t amount to pitting one company against the other.
“We’re dealing with something different here. We need to make the right decision that works for everybody,” he said.
By Lauren Donovan
23 February 2008