FARGO – The Cass County Commission heard a proposal Tuesday, Sept. 8, for what could be the county’s first wind farm.
The proposed project comes from Invenergy, a Chicago-based renewable energy company that is hoping to build a new wind farm close to the Ayr and Buffalo townships near the western edge of Cass County.
In the company’s presentation, Dan Litchfield, director of renewable development at Invenergy, said the project would create 150 temporary construction jobs amounting to a $58 million injection in the local economy over three decades.
Invenergy estimates the turbines in their Cass County development would generate 150 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 60,000 average U.S. homes.
The project is still in an early phase of development. While Invenergy has begun surveys of their project’s potential impact on local ecology, its interconnection to the region’s electricity grid and studying public feedback, the company said it does not expect to clear all of the necessary permitting hoops until 2023, with construction beginning the following year. On the current timeline, the turbines would not go online until late 2024.
Wind development projects require the leasing of substantially more land than the turbines themselves cover. Invenergy estimates that its Cass County project would need fewer than 100 acres for the turbines, but noted the project would require some 15,000 acres in “set-back” land, the large surrounding clearance area needed for wind power generation.
Over the last few decades, wind energy projects have expanded rapidly in North Dakota. The state has ballooned from just one megawatt of wind energy capacity in 1999 to more than 3,000 megawatt capacity today.
In some regions of the state, renewable electricity projects have had trouble breaking ground. Some North Dakota residents have expressed frustration that turbines make for an eyesore on the horizon.
The renewables industry has also found strong opposition in areas of North Dakota with entrenched fossil fuel industries. For example, coal-producing Mercer County instituted a moratorium on new wind projects earlier this year, while neighboring McLean County, home to Coal Creek Station that is slated for closure in 2022, has installed strict zoning laws that make new wind developments difficult to push through.
While Cass County does not have any wind turbines, there are already wind turbines in the Fargo vicinity, on the Minnesota side of the border.
Western Cass County consists mostly of agricultural land, with little presence of endangered species or critical ecological habitats, Litchfield said. There is some existing infrastructure in the area that would help facilitate construction of the project, he added, arguing that a wind farm would come with minimal drawbacks at the proposed location.
“That’s one of the reasons that we chose this area. It’s the intersection of a lot of different things that we look for in our projects,” he said.
While Invenergy has not applied for permits yet, Litchfield said they plan to seek local permits before approaching the North Dakota Public Service Commission for state-level approval on the project. The Cass County Commission is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 21.