N.D. Public Service Commission wants greater wind farm authority
FARGO North Dakota's Public Service Commission proposes to expand its authority to regulate all wind farms of commercial scale. Under current law, the PSC's authority to review wind farm sites begins for projects of 60 megawatts or more. Smaller ...
North Dakota's Public Service Commission proposes to expand its authority to regulate all wind farms of commercial scale.
Under current law, the PSC's authority to review wind farm sites begins for projects of 60 megawatts or more. Smaller projects are subject to county or township regulation.
Because of the 60-megawatt threshold, many large projects avoid state regulation of site approval, which includes a review of impacts on wildlife habitat or cultural heritage.
PSC members have drafted a proposed revision that would expand their site review authority to wind farms as small as half a megawatt, a size that would exclude residential or other small projects, Commissioner Tony Clark said.
"These laws were written in the '70s and never contemplated wind," he said, adding that wind farms have a much larger impact on the landscape than most energy-generation projects.
The PSC originally had jurisdiction on all wind farms with a capacity of 50 megawatts or more. That threshold later was increased to 100 megawatts, largely out of concern that North Dakota could lose projects to South Dakota, where state regulation started at the higher level.
Wind development has grown rapidly in North Dakota in recent years. Wind farms in operation now have a total capacity of more than 1,200 megawatts - roughly the size of two or three modern coal-fired power plants.
If all projects that are pending regulatory approval are built, the total could someday exceed 7,100 megawatts.
Commissioners have encountered problems with cumulative effects, as wind farms clustered near each other to exploit favorable wind corridors.
One example is four nearby wind projects in Oliver and Burleigh counties, with cumulative capacity of about 200 megawatts. Each wind farm has a capacity of about 50 megawatts, meaning none had to get state site approval, Clark said.
"None of it's ever been sited in a consistent manner," he said. "You have this issue of cumulative impact."
Commissioner Brian Kalk agrees, adding that the PSC and its staff have developed technical expertise that counties and townships cannot match.
"You've got to bring some expertise for the flyway, the cultural heritage," Kalk said, referring to waterfowl habitat and sites of historical or archeological significance. "You can't just throw these up. You've got to do your due diligence."
As wind farms have grown in North Dakota, and their impacts have become more apparent to residents and officials, more concerns are being expressed, Clark and Kalk said.
That's especially the case in wind farms that are near wind farms, Clark said.
Even if the PSC's site approval authority is expanded, counties or townships still retain a regulatory role through land use and zoning ordinances.
"We don't trump any local jurisdiction," he said, adding that wind developers must meet the strictest standard when laws of two governmental bodies are in conflict.
Clark has forwarded the draft law change to the North Dakota Empower Commission, which promotes energy development and planning. Ultimately, the issue will be decided by the North Dakota Legislature, he said.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.