BISMARCK – The Public Service Commission approved the long-awaited 87-turbine Brady Wind Energy Center I in northern Stark County on Wednesday afternoon.
The $250 million project by NextEra Energy Resources, which will provide 150 megawatts of power for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, faced stiff opposition and was the second iteration of the project in the county.
The PSC voted unanimously to approve the project, as well as the corresponding 19-mile transmission line.
“We worked really hard on this project and we listened,” PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak said. “I’m happy to support this at this time.”
NextEra expects construction to begin this month, with the project scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
“We are pleased with the PSC’s decision to permit the Brady I Wind Energy Center,” NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner said. “Today’s decision is a result of months of working in partnership with the local community to find a project that addresses both the needs of the community as well as the demand for clean, renewable energy.”
The PSC’s decision ended 15 months of debate among Stark County landowners and public officials about the future of wind energy.
Tom Reichert, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens of Stark County, which opposed the project, said even though the group is disappointed in the PSC’s decision, it will continue to provide input to other citizens in other communities that are concerned about wind farms.
He said that mostly there is a lot of frustration on the opposition’s side.
“We worked really hard and we’re still frustrated that Stark County did such a poor job,” he said.
Reichert added that the group is still actively seeking a lawsuit against Stark County with what they claim was a violation of opening meeting protocol stemming from a December 2015 Stark County Commission meeting, in which the project was approved.
The wind farm’s genesis began in March 2015 when NextEra applied for a similar application under Dickinson Wind LLC. That project would have placed wind turbines between Richardton to Gladstone along Interstate 94 with a 33-mile transmission line that would have ran south of I-94 toward Belfield. Dickinson Wind also would have included 87 turbines and produced up to 150 megawatts of power.
However, NextEra withdrew the similarly priced project after the Stark County Commission rejected its application in May 2015.
The commission rejected the proposal after landowner pushback.
NextEra, after looking at alternate locations in the area, applied for a conditional use permit in July for two tracts of land in southern Stark County for wind information towers. The company then started eyeing southern Stark County and northern Hettinger County for a two-phase wind project.
Brady Wind I and Brady Wind II – a 72-turbine, 150-megawatt wind farm in northern Hettinger County still under consideration by the PSC – started gaining momentum after NextEra held meetings with landowners in the area and garnered enough people interested in being involved with the project.
In November, the company hosted an open house informational meeting for the public to speak on the proposal of the two wind farms. A month later, in December, a group of around 50 people gathered at Schefield Hall to discuss why the wind farm should not be in their communities.
Later that month, the Stark County Commission voted 3-2 to approve Brady Wind I, following a 5-3 split decision by the county planning and zoning board.
The Concerned Citizens of Stark County filed a lawsuit against the county’s commissioners and planning and zoning board on Jan. 27, which was dismissed in March just days before the PSC heard more than 15 hours of testimony on the project – the longest wind project hearing in state history – on March 31.
The group claimed that the commission did not listen to all public input and that the room was not a large enough size to house all of the people who were interested in listening and providing comment during the meeting.
After hearing from both sides of the issue, the PSC began holding work sessions in May to discuss their questions or concerns with the testimony.
Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk said he supported the project during a May 6 work session.
While the PSC deliberated Brady Wind I, NextEra’s Brady Wind II continued building momentum.
Brady Wind II was unanimously approved by the Hettinger County Commission and Planning and Zoning Board on April 8. Two months later on June 7, the PSC listened to 10 hours of testimony at New England’s Memorial Hall.
The PSC’s first work session for Brady Wind II is at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Bismarck.