HETTINGER, N.D. – Duck Creek Township is 36 sections of crop land, isolated farmsteads and rocky hills with tall grass sweeping up the sides.
It is lovely and quiet in the township just north of Hettinger, but there is change in the wind.
A wind farm developer is making an application to build 75 turbines across the heart of the township, creating an industrial forest of gigantic towers, red lights and twirling blades where now there is only agriculture and country living.
It will take some getting used to.
Todd Christman is on the family farm on the southeast side of the township. Two of the massive turbines will be on his land if zoning is approved and if the project gets a siting OK from the Public Service Commission.
Christman, who was getting organized to head out to the hay fields earlier this week, said he hesitated before agreeing to let Thunder Spirit Wind build on his land.
“I was one of the last ones (to agree), but the neighbors are going to take it and it’ll be everywhere around here anyway,” Christman said. The closest one will be a half-mile from his house.
He expects to hear the loud “whooshing” sounds the blades make when they spin.
“I live here because I love the peace and quiet and privacy. This is the house I grew up in,” Christman said.
He said there will be some opposition to the project when the Adams County Planning and Zoning Board holds a hearing on a conditional use permit at 7 p.m. Monday at the courthouse in Hettinger.
“Some people don’t want to look at them for the rest of our lives,” he said. On the other hand, “Some folks are just happy to get it in the neighborhood.”
Another township resident, Ellen Elder, said she’s opposed to the project partly because there’s been little information available and only very late in the game.
Even though the turbines will surround the Elders’ home 360 degrees, she didn’t know the project was in the approval stage until she read the public notices two weeks ago.
She said few county officials even had documents about the project just days away from hearing the matter.
“These will be double the height of the Capitol building. We will have all the visual and the shadow flicker on our window,” she said. “This seemed to arrive under the radar. That’s a disservice to the community.”
Elder said she wants to know who will be responsible for taking down the turbines when they’re removed from service decades from now.
“I do want the community to realize what’s going to happen,” she said. She hopes officials who will make the decision value citizens more than tax revenue.
In documents at the courthouse in Hettinger, the company estimates landowners will together receive $875,000 annually in lease payments. Another $650,000 will be paid out annually to Adams County in property taxes.
The project will tie into a Montana-Dakota Utilities substation and the 150 megawatts of power sold through the Midwest Independent Operators System transmission grid. Thunder Spirit project manager Erich Bachmeier said the project isn’t a done deal until the company secures a power purchase contract, which is still in negotiation.
“We’ll know soon,” he said.
Overall, the company will invest about $350 million in construction.
It is a substantial project for Adams County.
Jim Goplin is the county economic development director, with a promotions office right behind the town’s statuary square.
Goplin said the project will be beneficial by way of new wind project employees, property taxes and payments to private landowners.
“I haven’t heard any negatives,” he said.
Bruce Erickson was in his farmyard getting machinery tuned up for harvest and overseeing repairs to his machine shed doors.
Before signing, Erickson said he and his wife drove over to Rhame to look at a small wind farm located south of town.
“Some people say they’re unsightly, so we had to look things over,” Erickson said. “Wind energy is easier on the land than oil development, so we thought, ‘Sign, or don’t sign.'”
The Ericksons insisted that up to five possible turbines be located off of their prime farmland, and negotiations took time.
“That’s not what we want. We told them they could use some of our pasture and they took that,” he said.
Erickson said the lease income will be helpful from year to year and he likes the idea of making use of the wind.
“It’s personal, but others will be looking at them. I guess it’s both,” he said.
Erickson said he hasn’t heard much opposition, though he knows one neighbor who wouldn’t sign.
Besides zoning, the project requires a siting permit from the Public Service Commission. The PSC will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 9 at the Adams County Courthouse in Hettinger.