A wind farm planned for Stark County cleared another hurdle, but not without extensive debate and a lot of attention.
The County Planning and Zoning Board moved their monthly meeting from a conference room to a courtroom in attempt to accommodate more than 40 residents who piled in to share testimonies on a conditional use permit for NextEra Energy Resources’ expansive wind energy project that could be constructed between Taylor and Gladstone.
The meeting, which lasted more than five hours, drew support and opposition from those attending. Board members voted 6-2 to approve the permit. The project now goes to the Stark County Commission, though it is yet to be determined when it will appear on the agenda.
“This is in no way a done deal,” board member Klayton Oltmanns said. “It’s just one of the steps along the way.”
All board members expressed how difficult the decision was as they too live in the communities and know people who are directly affected by the project.
If constructed, the project would contain 87 wind turbines, spanning more than 30,000 acres, and providing 150 megawatts of energy to Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
NextEra plans to start construction on the wind farm in June and estimates to be fully operational by December.
Support and opposition appeared evenly distributed among residents who spoke at the meeting.
People in favor of the project said wind turbines produce clean energy, reduces the country’s dependence on foreign oil and financially benefits local communities.
“This project will enable me to turn wind to energy,” Taylor resident Leland Brand said. “It will provide clean, electrical energy for generations to come.”
But opponents of the project argue that it came about too quickly and residents have not been given enough time to educate themselves about the benefits and drawbacks of such a widespread proposal.
Concerned citizens also argued that decibel levels of the turning turbines, shadow flicker and a decline in property value would diminish their quality of life as a result of construction.
“We have no fallback,” Gladstone Mayor Kurt Martin said. “If the flicker or noise gets out of control, there is nothing there to protect us.”
He said he would like some guarantees set in place so that an individual would not have to go against a multi billion dollar company in court.
Others raised concerns about future growth, which some say would be restricted by the turbines.
“We are still growing,” said Lorrie Nantt, a Realtor from Dickinson. “This wind farm is too close, there is no room to build. There is no room for growth.”
However, project manager for NextEra, Melissa Hochmuth, said the restrictions put on the company are the most stringent in North Dakota.
The county is requiring the towers to be built 2,000 feet away from residential units, which is a further setback than other wind farms in the area.
County Planner Steve Josephson said that if families wanted to expand or build on land that was closer than the 2,000 foot restriction, they would be allowed to do so if desired. The restriction is in place for the wind company, not land owners.
The company chose the area due to wind studies, which show the area has a consistent source of wind, close access to power lines and a power company in need of a power source.
NextEra officials have said there is no evidence property values would decrease, and that steps would be taken to keep flicker noise and decibel levels to a minimum.
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