State officials and industry lined up Thursday to debate how best to improve quality of life for those who have wind turbines on or near their property and aren’t pleased to have to view the traditional blinking red lights mounted atop them at night.
Proponents of House Bill 1378 told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that installing technology that keeps the lights from flashing unless aircraft travel within a certain range will improve the view shed for area residents.
HB1378 primary sponsor Rep. Daniel Johnston, R-Kathryn, told committee members those living near wind energy projects want one thing.
“Peace at night from blinding red light,” Johnston said.
HB1378 requires that all wind turbines that produce one-half of a megawatt of electricity or more must have an aircraft detection lighting system installed by Dec. 31, 2019, at the turbine owner’s expense. It would be retroactive to existing turbines.
Brian Duncan, with NextEra Energy Resources, said the Florida-based company has three projects in North Dakota completed since early 2016. He, and other industry officials, called the retroactive language and deadline for installation troublesome.
“We’re not supportive of the retroactivity. I think it’s a bit premature,” Duncan said of mandating a relatively new type of technology.
Duncan and others also suggested amending HB1378 to allow for all technologies for wind turbine lighting; they believed the bill’s language only allows for one type of technology that’s in its early stages of being implemented on wind energy turbines.
Jean Schafer, with Basin Electric Power Cooperative, said lighting and any changes made with lighting on wind turbines requires Federal Aviation Administration approval, which can take about 90 to 120 days minimum for permitting.
There’s also the matter of permitting for farms located near an airport or air force base. Schafer said its PrairieWinds project completed south of Minot several years ago is near Minot Air Force Base and required a permitting process of about one year.
Schafer added that there’s only a few suppliers of the technology so far in the country, which could make getting it installed in time difficult.
North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak spoke in favor of HB1378, saying the commission has required wind energy developers to install new lighting technologies on their projects.
To address the deadline, Fedorchak suggested adding language to allow the PSC to review projects on a case-by-case basis and, if a company has a legitimate reason for not being able to meet the deadline, provide a waiver for the deadline.
In general, Fedorchak said the move toward requiring new lighting technologies “is a step in the right direction.”
Estimated costs for installing such systems varied widely, industry officials said. For a single wind energy project, a new light system could cost a few hundred thousand dollars or in the millions, depending on what upgraded infrastructure was needed to handle the lighting and the number of turbines.
No action was taken Thursday on HB1378.