Following the approval of the Adams County Commissioners for proposed Thunder Spirit Wind farm, the Public Service Commission (PSC) held testimony in Hettinger Thursday.Posted Sept. 26, 2013
By JAMIE SPAINHOWER
Following the approval of the Adams County Commissioners for proposed Thunder Spirit Wind farm, the Public Service Commission (PSC) held testimony in Hettinger Thursday.
The Public Service Commission is a constitutional agency with varying degrees of statutory authority over abandoned mine lands, coal mine reclamation, electric and gas utilities, telecommunications companies, energy conversion facility siting, transmission facility siting, railroads, grain elevators, facility-based grain buyers, roving grain buyers, and hay buyers, auctioneers, auction clerks, weighing and measuring devices, pipeline safety, and underground damage prevention.
The seats on the commission are elected, and the current commission consists of Brian P. Kaulk, Randy Christmann and Julie Fedorchak.
The meeting, held in the Adams County Courthouse, was for the PSC to hear sworn testimony from the company wanting to build the wind farm, gather information and hear from the public present as well.
Currently, Thunder Spirit is making the determination of which turbine it feels will best fit the needs of the area of Duck Creek Township and a portion of Holt Township, where the farm is planned.
Depending on the size of the turbine, the 150 mg watt farm will place between 50 and 75 of the towers, said Dan Albano; the first witness called by Thunder Spirit.
“We are using three turbine models to ensure optimum use of land and wind resources,” he explained.
The cabling from each tower will be buried the required four feet underground, until it comes u and interconnects with an MDU substation. Setback will be one-half mile as required by Adams County zoning requirements and rights-of-way have been acquired from all landowners.
“This is below any normal agriculture use,” he explained.
During construction, the roads to access the area will need to be widened, to accommodate the crane used to put up the towers and blades. At the completion of each phase of the construction, the equipment will be removed from the area, said Albano. After they are done, the roads will be put back to their regular width, and then maintained by Thunder Spirit so it has continuous, immediate access to any of the turbines.
“Each turbine will require about 40 to 50 hours of maintenance per year, mainly lubrication and fluid top offs, regular maintenance,” he told the commission. “Each individual turbine will also be monitored with a 24/7 alarm system, automatic brake system to stop the blades and a battery backup.”
Albano said the company hopes to sign an agreement for sale of the power by the end of October. It would like to begin construction late this year or early in 2014.
“It should take six- to nine-months to complete, and testing would be in the late fall. Each part on each turbine will be completed tested prior to going online,” he said.
The goal is to be connected ad online in the fourth quarter of 2013.
The cost of the projects is estimated at $300 million.
Albano went on to testify to the decommission process, now estimated at 25 years, the general life span of wind farms, and that Thunder Spirit will undertake all costs and measures to return the habitat to its current state.
Thunder Spirit has been reviewing the Hettinger area, conducting various studies from wind patterns and speeds to environmental, cultural and wildlife since 2006.
It has been identified as an optima site because of wind resources, economics, willingness of local landowners and availability to connect to transmission substation with minimal impact.
Though the entire area is 27,000 acres, only 18 to 22 acres would be permanently impacted.
The MDU substation location makes it possible to tie into the Midwest Transmission and transfer the generated electricity, one of the most costly and difficult parts of any new electrical development, as the existing transmission lines can only hold so much power.
“Hettinger area uses mostly electricity as a main source of heat,” said Albano. “In the coming decade, there will be an increase in need for more capacity and lower cost. Eighty percent use electric heat, 12 percent use coal, and 8 percent use wind or hydraulic power.”
North in the Bakken, the need for energy continues to grow, and this is an option that is “essential to meeting the needs, stabilizing wholesale prices while adding capacity and clean air.”
PSC member Randy Christmann brought up the fact that North Dakota has an estimated 800-year supply of coal, and how does Albano describe that as a “finite” resource.
The discussion opened up about how accessible the coal was, how it attained and transported and the effect on the environment both in its acquisition and eventual usage.
“There are pros and cons to each source,” he said. “Just because it is available doesn’t mean it is sustainable. The key is to have diversity.”
While wind is often referred to as “free” energy, it is not without its costs, said commissioner Julie Fedorchak.
Albano agreed, but also discussed there are no by-products that need to be disposed of from the use of the wind,
Cultural, historical and wildlife
The second witness called was Tracy Debuk of TetraTek, who has spent times studying the environmental and cultural aspects of the area of the site.
“There are some cultural sites of possible historical value that will be avoided,” she said.
Native grasslands will be undisturbed as much as possible, and returned to its natural state and reseeded using native prairie mix under NRCS recommendations.
A plan will be put into place for management of noxious weeds during and after constructions, and no state or local agencies have objected to any of the findings as a reason to veto the project.
Shadow flicker and noise, two of the reasons landowners and others have objected to the project (the third major one being the change of view from their property) were studied.
“The flicker is not a constant thing, and occurs primarily when the sun is at a low angel – sunrise or sunset,” she said. “If there is no sun due to clouds or fog, there is no flicker.”
As for the noise, each of the three models is under both the PSC and county requirements.
“Our findings are that non exceed the 80 decibels during the day and 70 at night for Adams County, nor the PSC 50 decibels from a distance of 100 feet,” she said.
There are things to do to offset the flicker if it does become a problem, such as planting trees or putting up shades, she said.
At this point Albano was called back to answer more questions from the commission, specifically about birds getting caught in the blades.
Two separate bat and bird studies were completed several years apart, with counts of various species and migration patterns, said Albano. And when the farm becomes operational, a year will be spent following up on avian and bat fatalities, with the crew being well trained in how to search for any animals caught in the turbines and reports made to the necessary organizations.
It is expected the PSC will reach a decision in the next few weeks.