Most know North Dakota as an oil-producing state, becoming the second leading oil-producing state behind Texas because of the Bakken oil boom. Taking back seat to oil, though, is another energy-producing boom, wind farms.
The shift to alternative energy sources has slowly been spreading across the prairie, and has even made it to the neighboring county to the south.
Allete Clean Energy is entering the final stages of construction on the Thunder Spirit Wind project in Adams County that features over 40 turbines, and Hettinger County may soon join the movement thanks to NextEra Energy Resources.
NextEra Energy Resources is a company based out of Florida and is the largest wind and solar energy-generating company in the world, according to company spokesman Steve Stengel.
“We generate more power from the wind and sun than anyone else,” Stengel said.
They have assets in 25 states and Canada. In North Dakota the company is already operating more than 800 megawatts of energy with 11 total wind farms.
NextEra introduced themselves and the project to the area with a public meeting. The meeting, which was well attended by the community, occurred on Nov. 4 at the Schefield Community Center to discuss the possible wind project in Stark County. Dubbed Brady Wind I, the project will consist of up to 87 wind turbines and provide energy for 45,000 homes. The power generated will be sold to Basic Electric Cooperative.
The estimated tax revenue for Stark County is $20 million and the project will also amount to $24 million in landowner payments.
Stengel said they expect to seek county approval, start construction and become operational in 2016.
So what does this have to do with Hettinger County?
Stengel said a second wind farm is in the planning stages, Brady Wind II, and that project will see some turbines erected in the northern part of Hettinger County.
According to Stengel, the size of the project has yet to be determined, but did say that it could compare in size to the Brady Wind I operation.
“It would be in portions of Stark and Hettinger County,” Stengel said.
The project is not as far along as Brady Wind I project, but the hope is that the company can advance it to the point where construction could essentially begin in 2016.
Stengel said to raise a wind farm the area needs four things: land, wind, access to power hubs and customers. North Dakota has all four.
A large concern from land owners, and especially farmers, is how it will effect their operations. One New England farmer went out and did his own research from a first hand source.
Mark Koller was approached by NextEra a few months back about possibly housing a tower on his land, and before he made a decision he talked to a fellow farmer in Burleigh County that had a NextEra turbine on his land. The conversation eased his mind.
“After I saw the small footprint that the turbines and the access roads leave to the wind turbine, I found out that we can definitely farm around those things, with no trouble,” Koller said.
Stengel echoed those same sentiments during a conversation with The Herald. He said that the turbine itself takes up about one acre of land, and with the Brady Wind I project, 87 turbines are spread across 14,000 acres. That would account for less than 1 percent of the land being occupied by the machinery.
“Wind turbines are spread across a wide area, but the actual footprint is quite small,” Stengel said.
The project would also help the local economies. A project of this magnitude would require construction crews to bring close to 200 people in the area. People that would be spending money in the area, boosting the local economies. At the same time, though it wouldn’t be 200, Stengel said you could expect the creation of six to 10 new jobs for people to maintain the turbines after they become fully operational.
A small, informal meeting was held in Mott with various county officials to introduce the potential project and to get ready for the next steps.
For now, Stengel said land owners will be contacted and NextEra will proceed from that point based on the interest. Stengel mentioned how important the land owners are to the renewable clean energy movement, and without their support for the projects, wind farms wouldn’t exist.
“We couldn’t do this, we couldn’t build wind projects in North Dakota, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, if land owners weren’t supportive,” Stengel said.
As the state and individual counties investigate alternative energy sources, residents of North Dakota could start to see a shift of oil derricks and drilling crews, to sights of enormous fan blades spinning with the wind.
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