ASHLEY, N.D. - Only four members of the public spoke at an almost five-hour public hearing Wednesday held by the North Dakota Public Service Commission on the proposed Merricourt Wind Power Project.
EDF Renewable Development Inc., based out of San Diego, Calif., had submitted an application for a revised site plan for the 150-megawatt wind energy project. The Public Service Commission scheduled a hearing on the revised site plan in June, but had to reschedule as the hearing was not properly noticed to the public.
The project would build 75 wind turbines on 13,156 acres located in Dickey and McIntosh counties. Chris Sternhagen, EDF’s development director for the north region, said the project originally included 10,960 acres and the change in the project’s acreage prompted the site plan change. He said the energy development company will also place larger rotors on the turbines, from 100 meters long to 110 meters long, which will improve the efficiency of the turbines.
Sternhagen said if the project is approved yet this year or early next, construction could start next summer and be completed by the end of 2019.
Sternhagen said the project will generate $27 million in rent to the property owners leasing land to EDF over the project’s 30-year lifespan. Out of 18 homes that are in or near the project’s boundary, four will receive shadow flicker from nearby wind turbines. Shadow flicker is when the shadow of turning wind turbine blades show on a building, creating a flickering image.
The project is expected to create 150 to 200 construction jobs and seven to eight full-time jobs after the project is completed.
During public comment, Gary Grosz of Kulm said his farm is “smack in the middle” of this project and he was concerned about the lighting of the turbine towers as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. The turbines have a height of more than 430 feet when the rotor blade is in the top position, which requires the turbines to be lit at night when aircraft are in the area.
Sternhagen said the current technology to turn the lights on when an aircraft is in the area is called aircraft detection lighting system. The system is activated when the pilot clicks on the microphone button in the cockpit of an aircraft. Sternhagen said EDF has had problems with these systems where the lights come on and stay on all the time.
Another concern the commission had was the impact the project might have on birds. Sternhagen said EDF hired Western Ecosystems Technology Inc. to study what the project’s impact might be on birds, including whooping cranes and piping plover. Both birds have migration lanes that take them through the project site.
Alyssa Edwards, EDF’s director of environmental permitting, said EDF is following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recommendation to not place any of the project’s wind turbines, access roads and transmission lines within three miles of a possible nesting area for the piping plover.
Clayton Derby, chief services officer for Western Ecosystems Technology Inc., said based on the studies Western did, impacts to whooping cranes are not anticipated.
He said for three years after the project is completed, Western Ecosystems Technology Inc. will send biologists to the project area during whooping crane migrations in the fall and spring, and check for whooping cranes near any of the turbines in the project area.
“If a whooping crane is spotted or heard by its call near a wind turbine, that turbine will be curtailed (shut down) until the bird moves on,” Derby said.
Julie Fedorchak, a public service commissioner, said the commission would review all the testimony and information presented at Wednesday’s hearing and make a decision in the near future.