Wind war swirls into a broad bill
Credit: By Bilal Suleiman, ND Newspaper Association | May 3, 2019 | www.wahpetondailynews.com ~~
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They call him Mike “Windy” Brandenburg for good reason.
The Republican representative out of Edgeley, North Dakota, is one of the biggest proponents of wind energy development at the legislature. And he has a long-winded way of telling you about it.
Brandenburg introduced legislation this session to change the handling of environmental impacts of projects that destroy native prairie and wetlands. Originally aimed at energy projects, specifically wind farms, the language that was signed into law by the governor on Wednesday, April 24 will affect more industries than initially planned.
Brandenburg introduced House Bill 1383 after a wind farm project in his voting district, District 28, was nearly derailed by new regulations from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Allan Burke of the Emmons County Record reported on the controversy in a story published May 17, 2018. According to that account, proposed wind farm projects by NextEra Energy Resources, a long-time wind farm builder in the state, were hit with surprise costs for the environmental impact.
NextEra’s Foxtail Wind Farm in Dickey County, North Dakota, which has since been sold to Xcel Energy, paid $550,000 to Ducks Unlimited after Game and Fish suggested the wind farm should provide direct mitigation. The state agency then informed NextEra last November that it should provide additional indirect mitigation. That could have killed the North Dakota project and resulted in the wind farm being moved to South Dakota, Burke wrote.
After Gov. Doug Burgum intervened in the matter, he said, further mitigation requirements were waived and the project proceeded.
Another part of the controversy is over which types of land to place wind turbines on. Game and Fish considers native prairie, or grasslands, to be some of the highest value land in the state, which drives up mitigation costs. Farmers would much rather place turbines on grassland versus cropland, so they don’t have to farm around it. Another NextEra project, the Emmons-Logan Wind Farm, ended up re-siting turbines onto cropland, to the chagrin of farmers, in order to avoid paying millions in indirect mitigation costs, according to Burke’s account.
Brandenburg said he’d been to “a number” of Public Service Commission hearings on wind farm projects over the years and there “has never been an issue like this before.”
“You have input from Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Public Service Commission,” he said. “But there was no involvement by the property owner to make the determinations on where the right place is to put (wind turbines), and what should be done concerning mitigation issues.”
Brandenburg’s bill, House Bill 1383, establishes an environmental impact mitigation fund that future entities could pay into to offset mitigation costs. The fund would be under the purview of an existing committee that deals with federal litigation. The committee is headed by Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who may distribute money in the fund to landowners. Funding may be used for land reclamation or mitigation from adverse impacts of development or for consultation with an environmental scientist or related services.
Though the sponsor intended HB 1383 to help with wind farm development, the bill’s carrier said she’s looking at the many ways the new fund could be used.
“This affects any public entities or private individuals who need to do mitigation,” said Rep. Cynthia Schreiber-Beck, R-Wahpeton. “It’s fairly broad scoped in nature.”
Schreiber-Beck is a member of the state Aeronautics Commission and is interested in what the bill means for state airport projects. “When we’re looking at state airports perhaps this is going to actually defray some of those costs to do mitigation,” Schreiber-Beck said, adding that county road infrastructure projects could also benefit from the fund.
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