The Burleigh County Commission made no edits to its wind farm policy Monday. Following the lead of its planning commission last week, it took no action and left the wording the same as written this spring.
Nextera Energy, the expected first applicant to use the policy, has said in recent weeks that the county’s policy delayed building the Crofte Township part of the Baldwin Wind Project because of costly surveys in the special use permit phase.
Nextera has yet to apply with the Bismarck Community Development Planning Department that processes county-zoned permits.
It has been six months since the commission approved its first wind tower requirements in April. Burleigh County holds zoning authority in Crofte Township, but not in Ecklund Township which has its own zoning authority.
Company officials said they have spent more than $550,000 in preparing for the county’s special use permit process. They wanted the mapping process moved from the special use permit phase to the building permit stage.
Commission Chairman Mark Armstrong said the county policy is modeled after the Public Service Commission policy but is stricter in some setback wording for – 1,753 for the county’s and 1,400 for the PSC.
Armstrong said the PSC tends to defer its decision about limits to the county ordinance.
Armstrong asked why Nextera had submitted its application to the PSC a month before the county had approved its policy . He said in the state application, Nextera wrote it had already applied with the county.
PSC documents that Armstrong provided said Nextera had applied for the PSC permit March 5; Burleigh County had not approved its wind policy until April 5.
Carl Hokenstad, director of the Bismarck Community Development Department, said Nextera needs only to give city planners the same reports it gave the PSC and fill out permit application papers to get started.
“I was told the PSC is considering to make any wind farm fall under PSC guidelines. … We still took it to the PSC to approve it. The mistake you found was typographical. They switched Crofte and Grass Lake townships,” said Ted Weissman of Nextera Energy.
Weissman said Nextera meant to write in its PSC application that it had applied to Grass Lake Township instead of Burleigh County.
“There is no way of mixing that up with this information,” Armstrong said after the meeting. “I don’t agree it was a simple mix-up.”
Weissman did say his company still intends to apply for the special use permit for Crofte Township, but not when.
“We missed our window to get this project approved into our bill for this year. So, it goes to the next time we build,” he told county commissioners. He said that could be 2011 or 2012.
Armstrong said that since the wind policy was adopted in April, the company could have applied.
Armstrong said the PSC application report given by Nextera has Crofte Township maps, site applications, need for facility, site selection criteria, general project description, design analysis, environmental study, mitigation measures, wildlife impact and biological impact reports.
“They were told at the planning commission meeting all they had to do was walk this document (the PSC application studies) with a cover letter to the planning department,” Armstrong said. “That would start the process.” He said the county policy has not slowed Nextera down.
Armstrong later said he had asked the state’s attorney’s office to look into the timing of Nextera’s application with the PSC and the error in saying it had applied with the county.
When asked why Nextera had not applied for the special use permit, Weissman said he is not authorized to directly comment to the media. No other Nextera officials attended.
Commissioner Jim Peluso, who previously empathized with company claims that the county policy slowed Nextera down, said after the meeting he saw no need to change the policy.
“I think the communication needs to change between who is asking for the permit and who is granting it,” Peluso said. He said nobody seemed to have an answer about why Nextera hadn’t applied for the special use permit.
Commissioner Brian Bitner was absent.
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