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Parts of the wind turbines to be used in the Brady Wind Energy Center I are shown in a railyard west of Dickinson on May 27. (Press File Photo)

N.D. utility regulators approve 87-turbine wind farm

BISMARCK—The Public Service Commission approved the contentious 87-turbine Brady Wind Energy Center I in northern Stark County near Dickinson on Wednesday afternoon.

The $250 million project by NextEra Energy Resources, which will provide 150 megawatts of power for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, faced stiff opposition and was the second attempt at the project in the county.

The PSC voted unanimously to approve the project, as well as the corresponding 19-mile transmission line.

The project involved the longest wind farm hearing in state history on March 31 with 15 hours of testimony.

"We worked really hard on this project and we listened," PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak said. "I'm happy to support this at this time."

NextEra expects construction to begin this month, with the project scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

"We are pleased with the PSC's decision to permit the Brady I Wind Energy Center," NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner said. "Today's decision is a result of months of working in partnership with the local community to find a project that addresses both the needs of the community as well as the demand for clean, renewable energy."

The PSC's decision ended 15 months of debate among Stark County landowners and public officials about the future of wind energy.

Tom Reichert, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens of Stark County, which opposed the project, said even though the group is disappointed in the PSC's decision, it will continue to provide input to other citizens in other communities that are concerned about wind farms.

He said that mostly there is a lot of frustration on the opposition's side.

"We worked really hard and we're still frustrated that Stark County did such a poor job," he said.

Reichert added that the group is still actively seeking a lawsuit against Stark County with what they claim was a violation of opening meeting protocol stemming from a December 2015 Stark County Commission meeting, in which the project won approval.

The project is part of a proposed two-phase wind project. The second phase—called Brady Wind II—would be a 72-turbine, 150-megawatt wind farm in northern Hettinger County and is still under consideration by the PSC.

Last November, the company hosted an open house informational meeting for the public to speak on the proposal of the two wind farms. A month later, in December, a group of around 50 people gathered at Schefield Hall to discuss why the wind farm should not be in their communities. It was the beginning of months of passionate pleas by the opposition for their neighbors and officials to deny the project.

Some of the concerns focused on the impact to nature, home appraisals, sound, animals—such as bald eagle and golden eagle nesting areas—and disturbance of views.

But in late December, the Stark County Commission voted 3-2 to approve Brady Wind I, following a 5-3 split decision by the county planning and zoning board.

The Concerned Citizens of Stark County filed a lawsuit against the county's commissioners and planning and zoning board on Jan. 27, which was dismissed in March.

After hearing from both sides of the issue at the long hearing in March, the PSC began holding work sessions in May to discuss their questions or concerns with the testimony.

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk said he supported the project during a May 6 work session.

While the PSC deliberated Brady Wind I, NextEra's Brady Wind II continued building momentum.

Brady Wind II was unanimously approved by the Hettinger County Commission and Planning and Zoning Board on April 8. Two months later on June 7, the PSC listened to 10 hours of testimony at New England's Memorial Hall.

The PSC's first work session for Brady Wind II is at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Bismarck.