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Two-part NextEra project could bring wind turbines to Stark and Hettinger counties

Despite having a project denied earlier this year, NextEra Energy Resources is continuing its work to put a wind farm in southwest North Dakota. And this time, the Florida-based energy company has even bigger plans for the area.

Company spokesperson Steve Stengel said an 87-turbine project planned for areas of southwest Stark County closely mimics the one that had been planned between Taylor and Gladstone earlier this year. That project was struck down by county commissioners after it created deep rifts within the community.

NextEra is hosting an informational meeting about the project at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Schefield Community Center, and has invited residents to meet the company’s staff and comment on the proposed project.

The company has regrouped since its first project in Stark County failed and is proposing an alternative two-part project it’s referring to as Brady Wind Energy Center 1, which would be in Stark County. Another likely project, called Brady Wind Energy 2, would be located in Hettinger County.

Stark County Planner Steve Josephson said as of Monday afternoon, he had not received an application from the company, meaning the exact location for the project’s turbines are unknown. He anticipates the proper documents will be submitted this week. Though once received, he said the application remains subject to change.

Stengel said Brady 1 would include up to 87 turbines that produce 150 megawatts of energy that will be sold to Basin Electric. He said the timeline for Brady 1 includes obtaining the necessary approvals within the coming months to support early 2016 construction with a goal of full commercial operation slated for later that year.

“It’s a tight timeline, but it’s certainly doable,” Stengel said.

The outline for Brady 2 is in its preliminary stages, and is dependent on the success of Brady 1, Stengel said.

If all goes as NextEra plans, the second portion of the project would be “similar in size” to the first, meaning an additional 40 to 80 turbines could be constructed along the Stark and Hettinger County line.

Stark County Commissioner Jay Elkin said he voted “no” to the company’s proposal earlier this year because it was “tearing the community apart.”

However, Elkin said he will go into future meetings with a “clean slate.”

“The fact is, whether we like it or not, our power has to come from somewhere,” Elkin said.

As the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency push for the U.S. to wean off coal-fired power plants, he said that energy needs to be supplemented.

Hettinger County Commissioner John Plaggemeyer, who represents the New England area, said he has been engaging in conversation with NextEra representatives before meetings regarding the project occur. So far, he said the majority of comments he has received from community members have been positive.

Still, when the time comes to vote, he said the decision will be a conflicting one.

“I really don’t like the looks of them,” Plaggemeyer said. “But that’s not much of a reason to stop progress. We can’t have a one-track mind and we need to have alternative energies. In order to get these energies, somebody has to sacrifice something.”

Elkin said he will make his decision after more information about the project is brought forth.

“There are areas that are conducive to such a project, and this may be it,” he said. “But we don’t know yet.”