By Eric Killelea
The Williams County Commission voted in favor of a 75-turbine wind farm four miles north of Tioga, signing off on a project that has divided landowners during Tuesday’s meeting.
The boards of Lindahl, Sauk and Tioga townships approved the project after 30 landowners signed leases for about 13,000 acres of property. The turbines, rotating with wind gusts rising up to 9 meters per second, were predicted to begin generating 150 megawatts of power late next year pending approval from the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
Proponents of the Lindahl Wind Project say they hope the 492-foot turbines will help produce clean energy and diversify the rural economy.
“It’s very rare to get two people to agree on a project, let alone farmers and ranchers,” said Jerol Gohrick, a resident and board supervisor in Lindahl Township who favors the $150 million project and disclosed his financial interest. “These people out there want this.”
The Lindahl Wind Project was spearheaded by local landowners who began exploring wind energy in 2010 to feed the growing need of the Bakken power grid. The group executed a power purchase agreement with Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative, the power supplier for Williams, Mountrail and Burke counties.
Tradewind Energy, Inc., of Kansas, purchased the project in 2014 and has developed it for the global Enel Green Power North America, Inc., of Massachusetts. Lindahl Wind Project has since become a wholly owned subsidiary of EGP.
State Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga, wrote a letter to the commission in support of the project even though the city of Tioga recommended denial.
“North Dakota has always considered itself to be business friendly,” Rust wrote. “This business will provide a renewable energy source in an area of the state where it is needed. I see many benefits and see no reason why oil, natural gas, farming and wind can not coexist in the same environment.”
Robert Harms, who was born and raised in Tioga, and, until last month held the position of chairman for the North Dakota Republican Party, said he lobbied for the project during the legislative session. He cited Bismarck-based engineering firm KLJ’s prediction that the North Dakota Transmission Authority: From 2012 to 2032, the 43 counties within the oil-rich Williston Basin will require 2,512 megawatts of additional power generation.
Commissioners Dan Kalil and Martin Hanson, who voted in opposition in the 3-2 outcome, questioned the project’s request for a conditional use permit on agricultural land and two separate variance requests from setback requirements.
Kalil was joined in his recommendation for denial while serving on the Williams County Planning and Zoning Commission last month.
The first variance followed county and state ordinances that require turbines sit more than 1,400 feet from occupied structures, such as housing. (The project increased turbine setback from non-participating occupied homes to 3,500 feet). But the second variance steered against a county ordinance and requested that turbines could be built less than 1,400 feet from unoccupied structures, such as oil wells. (The project did expand its distance to 500 feet on Tuesday).
Commissioners David Montgomery, Barry Ramberg and Wayne Aberle, voting in favor of the project, thought the financial gains of participating landowners and communities outweighed the negative. The project would give landowner millions of dollars in production tax revenue, they said, while earning about $700,000 in annual wind farm tax and $17.5 million over the next 25 years for state and county coffers, township general funds, school districts and other expenses. Meanwhile, Brice Barton, the senior project development manager at Tradewind Energy, said the company would not receive the rumored annual production tax credit of $22 million rather less than one-third of that amount.
Opposing landowners, most often those outside the project, argued that county property had been busy enough since the oil and gas boom.
“We don’t need economic development. We don’t need more,” said Corrie Redmond, of Tioga, who added that Lindahl Township has 285 wells. “We should be thankful to God for what we’ve got.”
Other objections hinged on noise complaints, safety concerns and the ruin of views from their county farms and ranches.
“You need to stop and think about the next generation,” said Jody Dean Bergstrom, who told commissioners she enjoyed riding horses with her children on her surrounding land. “All I’m going to see is turbines and flashing lights.”