North Dakota regulators, leery of a wind developer's request to locate six turbines less than a quarter-mile from rural homes, have scheduled a hearing for arguments about why they should grant it.
The state Public Service Commission in April approved a site plan for Just Wind LLC's project, which the company wants to build east of Napoleon, almost 80 miles southeast of Bismarck.
It includes 153 wind turbines capable of generating up to 368 megawatts of electricity and will cost between $800 million and $900 million to build, project operators say.
Earlier, the commission declined to approve locations for six of the turbines, saying the 290-foot steel towers were too close to homes. In recent wind farm site cases, the PSC has favored keeping turbines at least 1,400 feet, or just over one-quarter mile, from someone's dwelling.
Logan County, where the wind turbines will be located, has an ordinance requiring at least 750 feet of distance. Don Metzger, a Just Wind development director, said the turbines that the PSC questions would be placed between 850 and 1,200 feet from homes.
On Thursday, the commission agreed to hold a Jan. 26 hearing for additional arguments from Just Wind on why the turbine locations should be allowed. The commissioners split on whether to hold the hearing, with Commissioner Brian Kalk arguing that Just Wind had not presented enough new information to justify one.
"I'm not comfortable opening this up again. Fourteen hundred feet, I am very comfortable with that," Kalk said.
Tony Clark and Kevin Cramer, the commission's chairman, supported holding the hearing. Clark said landowner support for a nearby turbine may influence reconsideration of the tower's placement, but he said a property owner's backing would not be decisive.
"There's ... a point at which we simply wouldn't site a wind turbine, even if a landowner signs off on it," Clark said. "We just feel it's too close for the public's safety to site something in a particular area."
Metzger said one of the six turbines in question would be located near a long-abandoned farmstead. The other five would be placed on land near homes lived in by the property owners, who support the turbine placements, Metzger said.
Just Wind hopes to begin construction of the wind farm next spring. The company already has an agreement to sell 100 of its 368 megawatts to the Western Area Power Administration, and it is looking for additional customers, Metzger said.
Dirk Shulund, a WAPA project manager in Billings, Mont., confirmed the agreement. WAPA mostly sells hydropower that is generated by federal dams. It markets electricity in 15 states.
Regulators consider a number of health and safety factors when approving wind turbine placements, including the tower's possible collapse, broken windmill blades, turbine noise, ice accumulations on the blades that can break loose and be thrown, and "flicker," which describes light reflections from the blades and the shadows they can cast.
The wind towers themselves are almost 300 feet high, but state regulators say if they collapse, they are likely to crumple rather than topple straight over.