A wind farm in Morton and Oliver counties plans to increase its capacity by 105 megawatts.
Minnesota Power is building the Bison Wind Farm, a 31-turbine development straddling the border between the two counties. The company sent a letter of intent to the North Dakota Public Service Commission on Feb. 4 for the second phase of the project, called Bison 2.
The expansion will bring Minnesota Power’s total generation capacity on the site to approximately 185 megawatts. The utility plans to eventually increase that number even further.
“Ultimately there are plans to build additional wind generation capacity beyond that,” said Dave Schmitz, general manager for renewable operations in North Dakota for Minnesota Power, based in Duluth, Minn.
Schmitz said work on the wind farm would likely start early next year and finish by the end of 2012.
The project will cost around $160 million, according to the letter of intent.
Minnesota Power expects to install the last of Bison 1’s 15 3-megawatt turbines this year. Bison 2 will consist of 35 of the turbines, which are more powerful than the 2.3-megawatt turbines that make up half of Bison 1’s capacity and produce most of the state’s wind power.
Commissioner Kevin Cramer said the type of turbine was important because it increases the capacity of wind farms without enlarging their footprint on the land.
“Suddenly with half as many turbines they generate the same capacity,” he said.
The utility is asking the PSC to shorten the standard one-year waiting period for new projects. Cramer said the commission would likely agree to the request as it applies to an existing development by a company with a long record of work in the state.
“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t accommodate that,” he said.
The commission will schedule a public hearing on the project after it receives the utility’s application for wind farm, likely this summer, Cramer said.
The electricity generated by Bison 1 and 2 will travel to northern Minnesota on transmission lines used for the coal-generated power from the Milton Young station near Center. The Minnkota Power Cooperative, which operates the Young station, also is building a 345-kilowatt line from Center to Grand Forks, expected to be complete in 2013. Minnesota Power will take over the existing lines when the new lines are complete.
“That’s been one of the better transmission capacity stories in North Dakota,” Cramer said. Limited transmission capacity and the cost of building new lines is seen as an obstacle to exporting wind power to large out-of-state markets.
Schmitz said Minnesota Power’s investment in North Dakota wind farms is driven in part by Minnesota’s mandate for 25 percent of its electricity to come from renewable resources by 2025.
“This is just some more steps on the way to 25 percent,” he said of the Bison development.
Aside from the Bison project, Cramer said there are two 150-megawatt wind farms pending, in Dickey County and in Rollette County. Wind farm construction has fallen from its peak in 2009, but companies still have been active.
“It’s slowed from its peak, but it’s still a pretty vigorous schedule,” he said.
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