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Mercer County to keep wind moratorium in place

The Mercer County Commission plans to keep its moratorium on applications for wind farm permits while it reviews its policies surrounding wind power.

The commission voted unanimously Wednesday to direct its planning and zoning board to take a closer look at the county’s policies. The moratorium, passed in May, is slated to stay in effect for two years unless the commission lifts it earlier.

“We just need some time to analyze it and protect the wind farm advocates and the residents of Mercer County,” Commission Chairman Marvin Schwehr said.

The moratorium comes as developer Capital Power seeks to build the Garrison Butte wind farm north of Hazen and Stanton in the middle of North Dakota’s coal country, which is bracing for the closure of the state’s largest coal-fired power plant in 2022.

Commissioners at a hearing in early July heard from coal supporters who asked to keep the moratorium in place, as well as landowners who leased land for the proposed wind farm and want to see the moratorium lifted.

Among the steps the county commission could consider as it reviews its policies is whether to impose a requirement that in order to receive a county permit, a wind farm must first secure an agreement with a power purchaser and receive authorization to connect with the regional power grid. State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson from neighboring McLean County raised the idea at the hearing and billed it as a way to protect landowners. His county earlier this spring also passed new zoning rules targeting wind power.

Commissioner Duane Scheurer said that, as a landowner, he has dealt with another wind project that ran into roadblocks and never came to fruition.

“The landowners were just sitting there not knowing where this was going,” he said.

Commissioners indicated they want to continue receiving comments on the matter from the wind and coal industries, as well as from other stakeholders.