Applause erupted Tuesday morning after the Stark County Commission rejected a conditional use permit for an 87-turbine wind farm stretching between Richardton and Gladstone.
The first reading of the project, which was submitted by NextEra Energy, LLC, was approved by the County Planning and Zoning Board on April 30 after five hours of public discussion.
Approval of the reading sparked residents to reach out and voice their opinions to county commissioners, who reported they received hundreds of phone calls within the past few days regarding the matter.
Commissioner Jay Elkin said he received more than 250 phone calls in the past two days expressing opposition to the project.
“The calls I have received are all concerned about the location of this project,” Elkin said. “People are concerned that this project would clutter up the gateways to our properties.”
However, people in favor of the project said aesthetic value is a small price to pay for clean, renewable energy.
“I have lived in this state for almost a century,” said Taylor resident Leland Brand.
He said that during that time, he has dealt with the persistent wind that blows over the flatlands of western North Dakota.
“We are always going to have the wind,” Brand said. “Our question today is, what are we going to do with it?”
Melissa Hochmuth, project manager for NextEra Energy, said the company chose the area based off of scientific wind studies, which show the area has a strong and consistent supply of wind.
The site is also in close proximity to power lines and is an area that has a need for energy.
For the last several months, the company has partnered with more than 80 landowners who agreed to participate in the project.
“We must be able to use our property as we choose,” Taylor resident Bob Jurgen said.
Hochmuth said the agreements would provide small family farms with financial incentives that could keep them running.
But, she said, the benefits extend beyond participating landowners. The project would add $21 million in tax revenue to the county, $8.5 million of which would directly benefit the Richardton-Taylor School District over a 30-year period.
“This project would benefit the community,” she said.
However, Commission Chairman Russ Hoff, said the project is dividing the community and straining relationships between neighbors and friends.
He voted to approve the project on April 20 because he recognized the importance of energy.
Since that time, he has changed his mind on the matter, realizing the project is having on the community.
Hoff abstained from the vote on Tuesday morning.
“I didn’t want to make that divide worse,” Hoff said. “All I wish is that things straighten out, so that friends are friends and neighbors are neighbors again.”
Without Hoff’s vote, commissioners unanimously struck down the request, though a meteorological tower and two data transmission poles as part of the project were all approved later in the meeting.
“We were surprised by today’s vote of the Stark County Commission on our conditional use permit application for our proposed Dickinson Wind Project,” Steve Stengel, spokesman for NextEra Energy, said in an interview after the meeting. “Our proposed wind project met all of the criteria in the county wind ordinance and received a positive vote a little over a week ago from the Planning and Zoning Commission. We fully expected our request for a permit to be approved by the commission. We are now looking at all of our options.”
He said those options have yet to be determined.
“We have to sit down and understand what happened,” Stengel said.
Commissioner Ken Zander said that western North Dakota is providing numerous sources of energy, including geothermal, uranium, ethanol, oil, gas, coal and wind.
“How much of intrusion will the people of North Dakota have to absorb?” he asked the commission.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of phone calls Commissioner Elkin reported receiving.
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