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PSC fines Xcel over wind farm missing lighting deadline

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has fined Xcel Energy $10,000 for failing to meet the deadline for complying with the state’s new law requiring light-mitigating technology atop wind turbines.

The system at the new Foxtail wind farm in Dickey County became fully operational April 7, missing the state’s Dec. 31 deadline by several months. The technology turns off the blinking red lights at night except when aircraft fly in the vicinity.

The southeastern North Dakota wind farm is one of six that missed the deadline. The PSC has negotiated with each farm’s owner over the past few months to reach an agreement on a penalty. The Foxtail wind farm is the last project to finish negotiations.

Xcel told the commission in early January that it needed two to three more weeks to bring the system online after the wind farm became operational at the end of 2019. Construction of the project faced weather delays due to an abnormally wet fall and early snow cover, the company said.

The wind farm’s light-mitigating technology had been partially installed by the year’s end, but it still needed federal approval, wiring work and testing, Xcel told the commission.

The project experienced further delays as it was later plagued by more bad weather, causing the vendor installing the technology to have to build a shelter around the site’s radar tower so technicians could wire the system, the company said in a letter to the commission in April.

“Xcel Energy sincerely regrets the delay in achieving full functionality” of the system, wrote David Sederquist, a senior regulatory consultant with Xcel.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said at a PSC meeting Wednesday that he was disappointed about the additional delay after the company initially indicated it would take just a matter of weeks to come into compliance.

“The most important thing is it’s going now,” he said. “This established a precedent for future companies that it’s not a rule that can just be ignored. It’s going to be enforced.”

The Dec. 31 deadline applied to wind farms permitted after June 2016. Facilities that received a permit before that date must install light-mitigating technology by the end of 2021.

Christmann urged the companies that operate those wind farms to be proactive and “not wait until the last darn minute.”

“I hope these companies aren’t all thinking that they can wait until Christmas and then get that in in a few days, when it might be cold,” he said. “I am not going to be very patient with deadlines being missed because they couldn’t get contractors or it was too cold in the waning days of 2021.”

The PSC is interested in obtaining information from companies about how well the systems are working, given that commissioners have often noticed the lights blinking at night as they have driven around the state this year. Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she will work with PSC staff to ask companies to track that information.