Should the Stark County phase of the Brady Wind project prove successful, NextEra will move on with plans for the Hettinger County phase, which would run along the border in the northwest part of the county. However, it has yet to be platted. “We really haven’t been approached yet” by NextEra, said Hettinger County Commissioner John Plaggemeyer.
Perhaps nothing in recent times has polarized the Stark County community more than the issue of wind energy development.
The latest test comes with Florida-based wind energy company NextEra Energy Resources’ proposal of the Brady Wind Energy Center, an 87-wind turbine project that would run along the southern Stark County line between the Enchanted Highway and west of Highway 22. A potential second part of the project would also be located in Hettinger County.
The Stark County Commission will vote on the wind project at a special meeting Tuesday at 10 a.m following a county planning and zoning meeting.
Supporters and NextEra itself have stressed the project’s benefits, which include employment opportunities, an estimated $20 million in taxes that would flow through the county over 30 years, and the estimated $24 million in landowner payments that would be made over the same period of time.
Opponents cite a number of grievances toward the project, including fears of property devaluation, health effects and bothersome noise levels.
For many, however, there doesn’t seem to be any bridge between the gap.
“I think we can already see some division in the community,” said Autumn Richard, a resident affected by the proposed wind farm. “And it’s a shame.”
‘A wonderful company’
Resident Ruth Steier, speaking for herself and her husband, Chet, said her family lives on land near Schefield that she described as being “right in the middle” of the project.
Originally, Steier said her family was leaning toward opposing the wind farms.
“We were kind of leary,” she said.
However, things have changed. Steier said she and her husband have had a positive experience working with NextEra.
She said that, in nailing down the contract, the company was able to make requested changes without any conflict.
“NextEra has been a wonderful company to work (with),” she said.
Steier said there are many benefits that she anticipates if the wind farm is approved. She cited the benefit to public schools as one of the main boons that the wind farms would bring.
With the money that would come in, she said she’s learned it would support the salaries for three new teachers at New England Public School, where her children go. For her, education is important.
Through her own research, Steier said she hasn’t found that the adverse effects of wind farms claimed by many are that substantial.
“(Wind farms) do not pose the amount of issues that the opposition suggests,” Steier said.
She said that, among her neighbors, she has not encountered any opposition to the wind project. She did acknowledge that it was a dividing issue in the community, however.
Steier referenced the Dickinson Wind project NextEra proposed earlier this year that was to run west of Highway 8 by Taylor. The Stark County Commission ultimately rejected the permit.
Since then, Steier said attitudes have not settled completely there as they once were. Those who were to benefit from the wind farm are still unhappy that the opportunity was taken away, she said.
“The Taylor community, it’s still a divided area,” Steier said.
Now, with the Brady Wind farm project, she said the community would likely remain divided as well, regardless of how the county commissioners vote this time.
Considering the community
Farren and Autumn Richard, who live in the proposed wind farm zone some miles east of Highway 22 and have been approached by NextEra about joining the wind farm, are opposed to any sort of deal with the company.
The Richards’ biggest grievance with the proposed wind farm is the eyesore they say it will create. Autumn said it will have a negative impact on the surrounding landscape.
“Lot of us move out to that region for the countryside” she said. “We’re going to lose that.”
There is also the possible noise it will create, which the couple worries about. They said the responsibility required to keep the turbines safe from damage could also interfere with hunting in the area. There is also the matter of respect to the community around them, they said.
The Richards said even if the personal benefits seemed more appealing, they wouldn’t wish to burden their neighbors with any adverse effects a wind farm on their property might generate, such as a possible drop in land values or health issues.
“I’d be against what it’s going to do to myself as well as my neighbors,” Farren said.
He said the attitude he has gathered from many supporters is that a wind farm would be good in the county, so long as it’s not located in their area.
“If you don’t want to see it in your front yard, why would you think the rest of us would?” Autumn asked.
She said that, once a wind farm moves into one part of the county, it is likely there would be more that spread throughout.
“I don’t have a problem with people benefiting from something,” Farren said. “But it’s when what they do, it affects your neighbor, then we have an issue.”
Opportunity in the breeze
For Doug Morel, a landowner who lives in the project area southeast of Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, the wind farm is a thing of anticipation.
“I’ve been wanting and hoping they do this for a long time already”
Morel said the area projected for the wind farm as “pretty isolated,” leaving relatively few people that could be negatively affected by the wind farm.
“Not a lot of farmers grow out there,” he said.
He said he’s heard about the supposed reasons not to have a wind farm in the community, such as flickering or noise issues. But he said that, from what he’s researched, the “reasons don’t even exist.”
The farmers who sign into the wind farm do get a needed benefit, Morel said.
He explained that agriculture has become a hard industry to make a profit, and that farmers struggle to keep at it. With the financial benefits derived from the wind farm, however, he said they get a substantial boost.
There is also the benefit of being able to provide clean, renewable energy, Morel said.
Compared to the pollution and onset of climate change that the consumption of fossil fuels creates, Morel said wind turbines have a negligible impact. He expected it to be cheap energy as well by likening it to hydropower, in that it doesn’t “cost or hurt anything.”
And the state has tons of wind for harnessing, Morel said.
“What is more sustainable and reliable than the wind in North Dakota?” he asked.
‘Undue hardship and bad feelings’
Stark County Commissioner Ken Zander has already made up his mind about how he feels about wind farms in Stark County.
Zander, who does not own any land on or near the proposed wind farm, said he has heard stories from supporters whose lives would benefit financially from the project. However, he estimated that this constituted “around 40 people” to his understanding, while “literally hundreds” were left to bear the possible negative effects of the wind farm.
“That’s a very few people compared to the number of people that have indicated they’re affected adversely,” he said.
Zander said he’s been told the wind farm would be “disruptive” to neighbors and friends surrounding those who have it on their property. Already, he said, he’s noticed the issue has “caused undue hardship and bad feelings.”
As one who has been outwardly opposed to wind energy development in the county in the past, Zander said he has tried to remain “clear and direct” in regards to his position on the matter.
“I believe people have the right to know how their elected officials will vote – pro or con – on those things that affect so many people in Stark County,” he said.
Watching from the other side
Should the Stark County phase of the Brady Wind project prove successful, NextEra will move on with plans for the Hettinger County phase, which would run along the border in the northwest part of the county. However, it has yet to be platted.
“We really haven’t been approached yet” by NextEra, said Hettinger County Commissioner John Plaggemeyer.
All there is in the county so far are three wind data towers that have been given conditional use permits, he said. If the project goes through in Stark County, however, and NextEra is able to sell the energy generated to Basin Electric Power Cooperative, then Plaggemeyer said he expects the company to request a permit for the second part of the project in Hettinger County.
“That’s kind of where it stands,” he said.
At the moment, Plaggemeyer said there are plenty of people in his county that have already voiced their opinions for and against the possible wind farm there. Many have attended meetings concerning the Stark County wind farm to gather more information, he said.
Plaggemeyer said he plans to attend the Stark County Planning and Zoning and county commission meetings Tuesday to see what he can glean.
“I could probably learn something so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
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