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Fines rack up for wind farms that failed to meet deadline for new lighting technology

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has approved another settlement with a wind farm developer that missed the deadline to comply with the state’s new requirement for technology that stops the lights atop wind turbines from blinking all night long.

Regulators at a Wednesday meeting said they would eventually like to get feedback from wind farm operators about how well the lighting systems are working.

The latest penalty of $5,000 comes after operators of the Emmons-Logan wind farm in Emmons and Logan counties failed to install and start operating the technology by Dec. 31, 2019. It took until Feb. 11 for the site to come into compliance.

The wind farm is owned by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, which notified the commission in November 2019 that it had ordered the radar-based system from an overseas supplier but that, due to supply chain problems, it would take several months for the system to be delivered, according to the consent agreement approved by the commission on Wednesday. The parts arrived in the United States and cleared customs in late January.

The technology is functioning now, keeping the blinking red lights that sit at the top of the wind turbine towers off at night unless an aircraft flies in the vicinity.

“They were six weeks late, which is a decent amount of time, but they were in great communication with us throughout that process,” Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said. “I think this is a fair penalty that the company has agreed to pay.”

NextEra officials did not immediately return a request for comment.

The settlement comes after several others were reached earlier this year for NextEra wind farms that missed the deadline by a few days. Another site, the Dickey County Foxtail wind farm owned by Xcel Energy, is still not in compliance.

Commission Chairman Brian Kroshus said wind farm operators could have been more proactive in trying to meet the deadline.

“I think there was ample time to move faster on this overall,” he said.

The North Dakota Legislature in 2017 passed a law requiring light-mitigating technology so that the red lights don’t blink constantly throughout the night, disrupting the dark sky. The lights are a safety feature meant to alert pilots to the presence of the turbines.

Companies building new wind farms, or those with sites that came online after June 2016, had to meet the Dec. 31, 2019, deadline. Wind farms permitted prior to June 2016 must comply by the end of 2021.

Several commissioners on Wednesday noted that, anecdotally, it seems the lights still blink often on wind farms that have installed the technology.

“I had noticed on some of the facilities that are located straight west of Bismarck, the lights are on quite frequently, so I’m curious about that,” Fedorchak said.

Once the technology has been in use for a while, she said, she would like to receive feedback from the companies on its pros and cons and how often the lights are still blinking.