Construction on the Lindahl Wind Project isn’t expected to begin until June 2016, but representatives from Tradewind Energy, the company building the wind farm, are in Tioga this month talking to the public about how the project will impact Tioga and the surrounding region.
Unlike most wind energy projects, the Lindahl Wind Project was initiated by approximately 20 landowners north of Tioga, who organized to produce a lease, which they then sold to Tradewind.
The 14-year-old renewable energy company from Kansas has developed six wind farms and one solar plant that together produce about 1 gigawatt of power.
“Our experience is the Midwest wind belt,” said Brice Barton, senior project developer for Tradewind.
The Lindahl Wind Project is the company’s first in North Dakota, and it will be the first wind farm in the far northwest corner of the state.
Depending on the size of the turbines, approximately 75 of them will be spread out over about 28 square miles north of Tioga. The nature of the design and the location of existing infrastructure will make placement of the towers uneven, but on average there will be about 2 to 3 towers per square mile.
At full capacity the farm will produce about 150 megawatts of power, depending on the strength of the wind at any given time.
Since the wind doesn’t blow all the time, wind energy can only supplement base load power supplies, which provide constant and reliable energy.
“We sell our resource as an intermittent resource,” Barton said.
The encroachment of industry following the oil boom has left people in the area much more cautious when new projects come around, and residents have been voicing concerns about possible impacts.
The Williams County Planning and Zoning Commission tabled the company’s request for a conditional use permit for some testing towers after several landowners expressed concerns. The commission asked for input from the City of Tioga before making a recommendation to the county commission for approval of the permit.
They asked the company to do more community outreach.
Tradewind was under contractual obligations not to discuss the wind farm while negotiations were underway with Basin Electric to purchase the power from the project. The agreement is pivotal to the success of wind farm developments, organizers said.
With that agreement now finalized, the company is scrambling to meet with public officials and hold public presentations to address any concerns.
Barton grew up on a farm and said many of the principle people at Tradewind have a rural background. Their projects are developed away from population centers, and they are experienced in working with rural communities.
“We understand the challenges that farmers and ranchers face,” Barton said.
Development Consultant for Tradewind Todd Wilen came to the January meeting of the Economic Development Corporation to discuss the project.
Wilen has decades of experience in energy, a career in engineering that began in the 1980s working on nuclear missiles. After the de-escalation of the arms race, Wilen turned his skills towards the energy industry. Since then, he’s worked in gas turbine generation, hydroelectric, and wind.
The Tioga Airport Board has voted against the project, according to President Chris Norgaard, due to concerns the project may affect future airport approach routes used by pilots.
When Norgaard, who is also president of the EDC, talked about the Airport Board’s concerns, Wilen assured the group the company can find a way to accommodate the airport’s needs before proceeding with construction. Tradewind has two aviation consultants working on the project.
“We are not building this to block Tioga Airport,” Wilen said.
After cursory discussions at city commission meetings, Tioga commissioners expressed concern on how the wind farm might prevent future development.
With the Tioga gas plant and Hess train yard blocking development to the east and west, city officials fear land for future growth, to the north, could also be blocked.
Last week, representatives of the company met with Tioga Commissioners Heather Weflen and John Grubb, and the city building inspector. They plan to do further presentations at a commission meeting in the near future.
There’s a four mile space between current city limits and where the closest turbines could be located, partly due to FAA restrictions on turbines inside airport approach patterns. Grubb said the space is enough to accommodate growth well into the future of Tioga.
“They went over it real thoroughly,” Grubb said of the two-and-a-half hour meeting. “A lot of our concerns were addressed, as far as how close to town it is.”
The issue of noise and safety is also on many people’s minds, and the issue was raised at both the EDC meeting and the meeting with Weflen and Grubb.
According to Barton, a turbine is about as loud as a lawnmower when it’s running at full speed. This would be the sound level if you were standing on top of the 200-foot towers.
“You get 300 feet away from it, it makes less noise than a microwave. At 1,000 feet it makes less noise than a refrigerator running,” Barton said.
The setback for the turbines from a residence is 1,600 feet. The state requires the towers be placed 1.1 times the height of the tip of the turbine blade away from roads. Sizes vary, but some can be as high as 400 feet, meaning such towers would be 440 feet from the roads.
“It’s responsible siting,” Barton said.
The company is continuing to address concerns. Public information meetings yesterday and today, Jan. 20 and 21, are aimed at answering questions of anyone in the area who would like to know more about the project. The meetings are at the Neset Consulting Building from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Some people believe the project is worth community support and believe the company is readily addressing any concerns they have.
Grubb said the project could diversify the local economy.
“Oil is our mainstay, but anything else coming into the economy is good,” Grubb said. “It’s a little more boom to the economy.”
Following his meeting with company representatives, Grubb said he is comfortable recommending approval of the county’s conditional use permit.
“I would say it would be fine. I don’t see any negative impacts to the city,” Grubb said.
Dallas Lalim, who is one of the landowners who initiated the project, has been involved in every aspect of the project planning since the company first came to Tioga.
“I think it’s a positive for the community,” Lalim said.
Barton said the project will create temporary jobs during construction and about 10 to 12 long-term technician jobs once the project is online.
Wilen said the project will generate about $700,000 in tax revenue to Williams County, and about $1 million to $1.5 million to the leasing landowners.
“This project has considerable economic impacts for the area,” Wilen told the EDC members. “There’s considerable monies coming into the community.”
The project will require more than just the county’s approval. After the conditional use permit, the North Dakota Public Service Commission requires a certificate of site compatibility. A variety of conditions will need to be met, including the input of non-interested landowners.
Then there are a variety of federal permits that must be obtained. The feds require archeological and wetland studies. The US Fish and Wildlife and Federal Aviation Administration have a complicated regulatory environment the company must navigate to get approval.
“We take into account wetlands, other easements, communications – you name it,” Barton said.
If all goes according to plan, the company hopes to be online by Dec. 2016. Before ground breaks on the first tower, the company has a string of hurdles to overcome.
Once operational, the power would be utilized in the regional grid, potentially flowing to Tioga and Ray homes.
“There has to be a good generation mix,” Barton said. “And the wind resources in North Dakota are some of the best in the wind belt.”
Lalim said with growth projections showing a rapidly expanding population for the next several years, everything the Bakken can do to diversify and expand its power supply is going to prevent potential power shortages down the road.
“It’s a way to keep the lights on for everybody,” he said.