By Mark Randall
I have received many questions from landowners regarding the commentary you recently published regarding the development of wind farms in general, and PNE’s wind farm development in Burleigh County, N.D. (See “Wind farm siting not as simple as it seems,” by Jerry Doan.)
In general, it is fundamentally true that when large infrastructure projects like wind farms, power plants or power lines are developed, there are always some benefits to the community and some negative impacts.
It is the responsibility of elected officials to weigh the benefits against the negative impacts and make decisions regarding whether and how to develop a project. If these decisions were left only to those negatively impacted, nothing would ever get built anywhere, and there would be no benefits for anyone.
The North Dakota Legislature and Public Service Commission have determined that wind energy development is in the best interest of North Dakota’s citizens and have established the rules to mitigate negative impacts. PNE Wind USA, like all developers, is required to follow these rules and is committed to doing just that.
In general, we believe the wind industry is good for the ag business, providing farmers and ranchers with wind energy revenues from leased land, and a hedge against bad weather and low ag and cattle prices. Wind farms also provide significant tax revenues to local communities, providing better roads, better schools and more financially secure families. To date, the wind industry has created over 4,000 jobs in North Dakota.
Regarding the specific concerns raised about the Burleigh Wind Project, please note the following:
Concerns about bird nesting areas and the flyways for the endangered whooping crane, as well as bald and golden eagles
Wildlife issues are strictly regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. PNE is extremely sensitive to the need to avoid and minimize impacts to wildlife. For the past two years, PNE has engaged wildlife biologists to conduct field counts of all birds in and around the project area. During this time, our biologists have sighted no golden eagles in the project area and only four bald eagles. Bald eagle nests are concentrated along the Missouri River (approximately 5 miles from the project site) where they feed on fish, and therefore are not likely to nest or hunt in the project area. A whooping crane stopover habitat assessment was conducted and revealed no suitable habitat for migrating whooping cranes in the project area. No whooping cranes have been sighted during the field counts. PNE has submitted its study data and initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and expects an opinion of no adverse effect to protected species.
Concerns about impacts to historical and archaeological resources, including the Glenco Church
There will be no impact to the Glenco Church. The Glencoe Church is a candidate for listing as a historic place but has never been nominated. The project will consult with the North Dakota State Historic Preservation office and conduct extensive field surveys of any areas that will be impacted by the construction of the wind farm to ensure any historic or archaeological resources are not disturbed. This is also a requirement of the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
Concerns about visual impact on the Louis and Clark Trail
Visual impacts to the Louis and Clark Trail (Highway 1804) will be simulated and evaluated by the North Dakota State Historic Preservation office and the Public Service Commission. The project has intentionally been designed to be at least 2 miles from the scenic highway and the Missouri River recreation area in order to avoid and minimize visual impact to those areas.
Concerns about PNE
PNE Wind USA is managed by U.S. citizens and all employees and staff are U.S. citizens. The parent company of PNE Wind USA is a German-registered company that has been operating successfully for nearly 20 years and is the largest developer of wind farms in Germany. Development companies are more the norm than the exception in the U.S. (and global) wind industry because most U.S. utilities do not develop and build generation projects; typically, they buy power generation projects from developers or buy power from independent power producers. PNE has invested millions of dollars in the U.S. market, providing jobs for hundreds of American citizens. To date, all proceeds from PNE’s U.S. operations have been reinvested in its U.S. projects, and contribute directly to the benefit of local residents and businesses in North Dakota and the U.S., including payments to landowners, wind equipment purchases, employee wages and professional service payments to local expert consultants.
Concerns about subsidies
All U.S. energy industries receive subsidies and benefits from federal and state governments that are intended to stimulate investment, jobs and revenues at the state and local level. American companies like GE (a wind turbine manufacturer) invest billions of dollars and employ hundreds of thousands of people in their various business sectors nationwide. Wind energy tax credits are going to sunset by 2020. The wind industry has evolved to the point where it can and will stand on its own without subsidies. It is unfortunate that other energy sectors will continue to receive subsidies after wind credits expire.
Concerns about wind energy impact on the electric transmission grid
The notion that the addition of intermittent resources, such as wind energy, will cause instability and other grid problems is without foundation. Wind farms now provide over 20% of the electricity generated in North Dakota and have been successfully integrated into the North Dakota and U.S. grid infrastructure. North Dakota’s utilities supported the wind industry in the recent legislative session and continue to move forward with plans to increase the amount of wind energy in their generation portfolios.
Concerns about light pollution from FAA required lighting on wind met masts and turbines
The North Dakota Public Service Commission has implemented a regulation requiring “light mitigation technology subject to FAA approval.” PNE will fully comply with the regulation and is studying available technologies such as aircraft detection lighting systems that keep the FAA-required turbine lights off during times when there are no aircraft within minimum distances. Current estimates indicate that the FAA-required lights will be off for more than 90% of the night.
Concerns about community divisions
The majority of the landowners in and around the project support the wind farm and their neighbors’ right to do as they please on their own land. Wind farms provide additional income to participating landowners and provide significant tax and revenues to local communities. That offsets the need to increase local taxes and helps farmers and ranchers to retain their land and pass their land and agricultural heritage on to future generations.
Randall is the Burleigh Wind Farm project manager for PNE Wind USA.