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PSC approves large wind farm project

A wind energy project that would be among the largest in North Dakota in terms of production capacity was given the green light Wednesday by the Public Service Commission.

Commissioners unanimously approved the 200.5 megawatt Courtenay Wind Farm. The $350 million project is being developed through Edina, Minn.-based Geronimo Energy.

Commission chairman Brian Kalk said the wind farm would be spread over a roughly 21,000-acre area in northeast Stutsman County.

Geronimo Energy is still considering whether they will utilize 1.5-megawatt or 2-megawatt turbines. The company told him recently it is leaning toward 2-megawatt wind turbines, Kalk said. This would put the number of turbines constructed at about 100.

Kalk said one issue that came up was that of wind turbine locations being near a private airplane landing strip.

The private landing strip is where Courtenay residents Robert and Julie Sprague base an aerial spraying business. A letter outlining concerns with the location of the project was submitted in late July after the public comment period had ended.

Kalk said the Spragues also didn’t attend a public hearing on the project July 12 in Jamestown. The Spragues’ letter states that they were never contacted about the potential impact of the project.

A two-mile buffer between wind turbines and public airports is required under Federal Aviation Administration regulations. This doesn’t apply to private airstrips.

Kalk said at a hearing earlier this month he was “OK with the project” if the company agreed to move nine of the towers in the southwest corner of the project near the private airstrip. He’d also had concern with the location of a meteorological evaluation tower in the area.

Geronimo Energy provided an updated plan for the project eliminating the nine towers the same day, Kalk said.

Kalk said another concern was over the acreage in the project area no longer being available for spraying.

“People have the right to develop wind towers,” Kalk said.

He added that allowing such projects requires a balance by landowners. On one hand a landowner receives the benefits of payments for having turbines on their property. On the other hand they lose out on having their property sprayed.

North Dakota had approximately 1,672 megawatts of wind energy capacity in the state as of October of this year. An exact figure on how much of that capacity is being used wasn’t available.