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Facility to include up to 74 turbines

BISMARCK – State regulators approved a siting permit Wednesday for a 200-megawatt wind project in Burke County that will include up to 74 turbines.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved permits for the Northern Divide Wind Project and for a 41-mile long, 345-kilovolt transmission line that starts at the wind farm in the northwest corner of Burke County, in the Columbus area, and extends to Basin Electric’s Tande Substation in Mountrail County.

Northern Divide is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, which last year had been denied a permit for another subsidiary, Burke Wind, due to concerns about dangers to migratory birds.

“NextEra worked closely with the North Dakota Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to address the concerns identified by these expert agencies in the first permitting process. As a result, Northern Divide Wind is significantly different in its impacts to wetlands and wildlife than the Burke Wind project was,” said Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, who holds the siting portfolio. “The project is significantly smaller, has far less impact to native prairie and far fewer impacts to wetlands. In my assessment, with these significant changes and the lack of objection from these wildlife agencies the project now meets the legal standard of minimal impact that’s necessary for a permit.”

The new project incorporates the following modifications:

– Northern Divide has relocated 44 of the original 78 turbines to areas with less impact to wetlands and wildlife using recommendations from the wildlife agencies. The turbines were moved away from key Northern Pintail Duck breeding habitat.

– The project area of just under 11,000 acres was reduced by about 52%. About 7% of the project area consists of native prairie and none of the turbines will be on unbroken native grasslands. The company states that the project is located predominantly on cropland, which will reduce the impact to upland birds. Further, the transmission line will be located in mostly tilled cropland and co-located with existing roads where possible.

– Northern Divide submitted evidence that the current project area encompasses 950 wetland features as compared to the previous Burke Wind Project that encompassed 2,470 wetland features. Northern Divide has committed to avoiding all direct impacts to wetlands by boring and by maintaining appropriate water and soil conservation practices during construction.

– Northern Divide has committed to avoiding turbines near known grouse leks, to avoid impacts to any suitable Dakota Skipper habitats, and minimize the potential for adverse impacts to raptor nests.

– Northern Divide has addressed concerns related to the transmission line by committing to marking the transmission line with bird flight diverters, assuring the line will be located in areas that are unsuitable habitat for the Sprague’s Pipit, and indicating that no new permanent roads will be built for the transmission line.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife has not submitted any objections to the current project. North Dakota Game and Fish Department has stated in correspondence that the new layout considerably reduces the potential impacts to important wildlife resources.

“I continue to believe America is over-saturating our electric grid with intermittent energy at the expense of baseload energy,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “But this is a siting case that must be decided based on the law in North Dakota’s Siting Act, as written by the Legislature, and this project meets the requirements of the Siting Act.”

Estimated cost of the project is $300 million for the wind project and $30 million for the transmission line.

The company has previously stated construction could start this year. Construction is expected to take six months, with the possibility of finishing yet this year. About 200 to 300 construction jobs will be created.

During the 30-year life expectancy of the proposed wind farm, it will generate about $30 million in property taxes, according to NextEra. It would generate about $30 million in payments to participating landowners over the 30 years.