TIOGA, N.D. – The first wind farm proposed for oil-rich northwest North Dakota has area residents divided, with some advocating for renewable energy and others arguing the region is already inundated with energy development.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission heard a proposal Thursday from Lindahl Wind Project LLC, which is seeking to build up to 75 wind turbines north of Tioga.
The 150-megawatt project would help meet the high demand for electricity in the area driven by oil and gas development, Brice Barton, senior development manager for Tradewind Energy of Lenexa, Kan., which is developing the project.
“The project is ideally located to provide a low-cost, clean, renewable energy source to help meet that need,” Barton said.
The $248.5 million project, located on 13,000 acres about four miles north of Tioga, is the first wind farm proposed for northwest North Dakota, said commissioner Brian Kalk.
The project was initiated by landowners who first began studying the idea to develop a wind farm in the area in 2008, said landowner Dallas Lalim.
Supporters say the wind farm will provide the region with reliable electricity and help diversify the economy of Tioga, known as the oil capital of North Dakota.
“It’s been my dream that we could develop some alternative energy in the state and take advantage of our endless winds that we see here,” said Larena McGinnity, one of the participating landowners.
Basin Electric has agreed to purchase the power generated by the wind turbines.
The project would have 200 construction jobs during its peak and eight to 12 jobs during operation, Barton said. It also would provide the school district, county and state with tax revenue estimated to average about $700,000 a year, Barton said.
Other neighboring residents opposed adding wind turbines to the landscape that’s already been transformed by oil and gas development. Lindahl Township, one of three townships within the project, has nearly 300 oil wells, including those that have been plugged and abandoned, according to the Department of Mineral Resources.
Stephanie Vagts, who lives about one mile from one of the proposed turbines, said the community can’t endure another construction crew building more access roads when the area is “already bursting at the seams.”
“We’ve already sacrificed enough for energy,” Vagts said.
Resident Kathy Hove said she doesn’t want to look at the wind towers and she’s concerned about how the wind farm will affect the community.
“When they look up north from Tioga, they’re not going to see the Northern Lights anymore, they’re going to see red flashing lights,” Hove said.
Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga, told commissioners he took time to make up his mind on the project because he has friends who are passionate on both sides. But he decided to support it after considering the need for electricity and the rights of landowners.
“I feel that as a landowner, unless you adversely affect those nearby, you should have the ability if you own that land to produce an income from that land,” Rust said.
While the local township boards supported the project, other local governments were split on the issue. Tioga city commissioners voted 3-2 to oppose the project and wrote a letter to Williams County officials expressing their opposition. The Williams County Planning and Zoning Commission voted no to a conditional use permit, but county commissioners overturned that decision in a 3-2 vote.
Others who testified Thursday raised concerns about the wind farm interfering with oil and gas activity in the area. Kalk cautioned the company to be careful about pipelines, particularly old ones the company may not know about.
“Just because you’ve been told there’s nothing out there, doesn’t mean you’re not going to hit something,” Kalk said.
The all-day hearing had 23 members of the public testify, the most amount of public input the commission has received in a single hearing, Kalk said.
The commissioners will next discuss the project in a work session, likely to be scheduled in late October or November.