BISMARCK – A proposed wind farm in Ward and McLean counties has been stopped by red lights.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission Wednesday declined to approve a permit requested by Southern Power for its proposed 205-megawatt Ruso Wind Project. The company faced difficulties complying with a 2017 state law that addresses visual pollution by requiring technology on turbines to keep lights from constantly blinking red at night.
Radar-based technology exists that allows for lights to come on only at the approach of aircraft. Minot Air Force Base had raised concerns about the radar-based technology proposed for Ruso Wind. The Air Force flies helicopters to intercontinental ballistic missile sites in the area.
The commission voted 1-2 to not approve the permit but because it did not vote to deny, it leaves the opportunity for Ruso Wind to come back with modifications.
“Ruso Wind respects the decision of the Commission,” the company said in a statement following the PSC’s decision. “We are very grateful for the local community and to everyone who helped get this wind project this far. We are currently evaluating our next steps in the development of this project.”
The rejection follows the PSC’s rejection last June of a siting permit to NextEra Energy for a 76-turbine wind farm in Burke County. North Dakota Game and Fish had raised concerns over potential negative impacts to wildlife at the proposed location. NextEra has offered an alternative 200-megawatt project, Northern Divide Wind Energy, in Burke County, which would have up to 74 turbines.
The permit for Ruso Wind had carried a condition allowing the company to postpone installation of light-mitigating equipment until the Federal Aviation Administration approves another technology.
Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, who supported the permit, said the goal is to see light mitigation technology used at all wind farms.
“I think that was the company’s plan all along, and late in the game, it became evident from the Air Force’s concerns that existing light-mitigation technology that’s available today doesn’t work well in addressing the concerns the Air Force has raised. That does not mean that future technology won’t be available for this project,” she said.
Ruso Wind still needs to obtain an interconnection agreement to sell its energy. It’s possible different light-mitigating technology will be available by the time an agreement can be obtained and construction can start, Fedorchak said.
She added there was no concern raised or hearing requested when it was announced to the public that the project may not have light mitigation it opens.
Commissioners Randy Christmann and Brian Kroshus, who voted against the permit, said state law doesn’t give the PSC authority to grant waivers to the mitigation requirement. Kroshus said the 2021 Legislature may address the law’s wording because the intent wasn’t to inhibit development.
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