VALLEY CITY, N.D.—The permitting process for the largest wind farm ever proposed in North Dakota moved ahead Tuesday with a hearing before the Public Service Commission here. If approved, Glacier Ridge Wind Farm would limit construction this year with no work planned on the project in 2017. Work would resume in 2018 with project completion planned for 2019.
The project has an estimated cost of $375 million.
Renewable Energy Systems is seeking authorization to build a 300-megawatt wind farm in northeastern Barnes County. Project plans call for 87 wind turbines rated at 3.45 MW each. The turbines stand 285 feet tall at the hub with the blades reaching 492 feet at the top of the rotation.
Jeff Jackson, development manager for Renewable Energy Systems, said by excavating at least 20 percent of the foundations for the project, the project would qualify for Production Tax Credit if completed by 2020.
“It would do significant harm to the project by not qualifying for the tax credits,” Jackson said when questioned about the construction schedule.
Randy Christmann, a member of the PSC, said the project had a lot of local landowners involved through Peak Wind Development. Peak Wind Development is a locally owned company of landowners in the project area that is partnering with Renewable Energy Systems to develop the project.
“Peak has been working with RES,” Christmann said. “So there is a lot of landowner participation and that’s a good thing.”
There were additional properties within the project that had not renewed leases with RES, according to Brian Kalk, a member of the PSC.
“We want to make sure all land is under lease,” he said. “We asked for a delayed filing on that.”
Christmann said the project does have some challenges.
“They don’t have a (electrical) buyer yet,” he said. “We don’t know what the interconnection will be. It could be a considerable investment.”
The documents filed by RES indicated it would need to construct up to 20 miles of high voltage powerlines to connect the wind farm to the electrical power grid. The location and length of the powerline depends on the interconnection, and RES would need to seek a separate PSC approval for that project when more information is known.
Jackson said if RES was unable to contract to sell its power, it might consider acting as a merchant generator selling the electricity on the open market.
“That is rare in the wind industry, but we wanted to keep our options open,” Jackson said. “We could operate independently and sell the power into the market.”
Kalk said the unknowns concerning the sale of the electricity were a concern for him that were answered by the testimony.
“The traditional concerns about fish and wildlife and archeology have all been dealt with,” he said.
Kalk said witnesses for RES addressed questions of grid reliability.
“They are doing studies through the power (grid) organizations,” he said. “They will have to make upgrades to address any problems the studies reveal. The question then becomes if the cost of those upgrades is a factor for them in the the project.”
The PSC requested additional information during testimony Tuesday. The commission will then review the information and testimony before considering authorization for the project.