The North Dakota Public Service Commission sent a message this week that landowners’ rights do matter. The commission unanimously voted to order Minnesota Power to remove or relocate a wind turbine.
The three-member commission gave Minnesota Power six months to complete the action. The company can either move the turbine farther away from an Oliver County home or leave it down.
The Kessler family filed a complaint with the PSC last year arguing the turbine is within 1,125 feet of the house. The company had agreed to maintain a 1,400-foot buffer between turbines and occupied residences at its Bison wind farm that straddles Morton and Oliver counties.
There was debate over what constitutes an occupied home since state law doesn’t define it. The PSC decided the Kessler home was occupied. Keith and Deanna Kessler purchased the home in 1988 and lived in it. Their children continue to use it during the summers and plan to do so in the future.
PSC Chair Julie Fedorchak said the company never checked with the family to see if they were living in the home. Instead, Minnesota Power relied on plat books, satellite information and site visits. Despite the lawn being mowed, the company decided the home was unoccupied.
Fedorchak was right when she said it would have been easy for the company to contact the family. By skipping personal contact, the company got the result it wanted. The Tribune editorial board believes the PSC made the right decision in upholding the family’s rights.
The Kessler family participates in the Bison wind farm with several turbines on their property. Anyone who signs up for a similar project should expect the company to follow the rules.
“It’s uncommon for a small landowner to go up against a big company like this, but we didn’t just do it for ourselves. We did it for future generations,” Keith Kessler said after the decision.
He also said the Legislature should require more distance between wind turbines and residences, citing noise as an issue. The Tribune agrees, and not just with wind turbines. Natural gas flaring can cause considerable disturbance to homes in the oil patch.
North Dakota has been eager, especially in the early stages of the latest oil boom, to encourage energy development. Decisions seemed to favor companies poised to invest millions in development in the state.
It was easy to side with companies over isolated landowners who didn’t have much clout.
The Legislature needs to review the ongoing complaints from landowners about energy development. Yes, many landowners are benefiting from development. They welcome the money they receive from companies because it allows them to maintain the rural lifestyle they love. However, if the noise and other environmental factors overwhelm them, that lifestyle becomes diminished.
The PSC decision recognizes the rights of landowners to a degree of privacy. The removal or relocation of the turbine could cost Minnesota Power more than $1 million. It sends a message to other energy companies that not following the rules can have costly consequences.
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