BISMARCK – State utility regulators unanimously approved a wind farm in north-central North Dakota on Wednesday, despite a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor saying a day earlier that more study was needed on its potential impacts to bald eagles in the area.
The Public Service Commission voted 3-0 to grant a site permit for Rolette Power Development’s $175 million, 100.4-megawatt wind farm with up to 59 turbines about three miles south of Rolette.
Commissioner Brian Kalk said the PSC did its due diligence, getting on the record that the company will work with the FWS to limit the risk to bald eagles, which have two nests within 5 miles of the project.
Kevin Shelley, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ecological services supervisor for North Dakota, told reporters after an informational meeting with the PSC on Tuesday that he wouldn’t put the wind project “in a low-risk category” for bald eagles and that the company hadn’t provided an eagle-use study, which the FWS recommends should take two years.
But Kalk emphasized that an FWS official raised no concerns about the project during a second public hearing Nov. 2 in Rolette that was scheduled after the FWS notified the developer of bald eagle nests near the project area.
“I’m hopeful that the service comes to our hearings and says the information when it’s appropriate so we can make decisions. I mean, it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback,” he said.
Kalk and PSC chairwoman Julie Fedorchak both highlighted the strong community interest in the project. Rolette Power is jointly owned by Finley-based M-Power and Rolette-based Border Power LLC, which is owned by 27 participating landowners within the project’s footprint, 46 local investors, 30 M-Power investors and several community development organizations.
Project Manager Warren Enyart said they hope to start construction during the second quarter of 2016 and have the wind farm substantially completed by year’s end so they can take advantage of the federal wind production tax credit before it expires.
Rolette Power is trying to secure a power purchase agreement and a buyer for the project, and the PSC’s approval Wednesday is “critical” in that effort, he said.
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