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Turbines turn near Langdon

NEKOMA, N.D. -- As wind energy developers and state officials shot the breeze inside a tent late Wednesday morning, wind turbines surrounding the Langdon (N.D.) Wind Energy Center were producing some 10 megawatts of energy, enough to power 2,500 ...

NEKOMA, N.D. -- As wind energy developers and state officials shot the breeze inside a tent late Wednesday morning, wind turbines surrounding the Langdon (N.D.) Wind Energy Center were producing some 10 megawatts of energy, enough to power 2,500 homes.

That was a lull, really, in terms of energy output at the very hour the 106-turbine, $250 million facility was being dedicated.

At full capacity, the 159-megawatt Langdon wind farm is capable of powering about 39,750 homes -- equal to, for example, the number of houses in Grand Forks, Traill, Walsh, Cavalier and Pembina counties.

By the end of the year, the facility will expand by another 27 wind turbines and 40 megawatts of power, enough to power another 10,000 homes.

The project is a partnership between Florida-based FPL Energy, Minnkota Power Cooperative and Otter Tail Power Co.

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"This is a quarter-billion-dollar investment, and they're expanding," Gov. John Hoeven said at the dedication. "That's a tribute to the companies who have worked to bring this project together, and to the people in Langdon and the surrounding area, and to the state."

The wind farm employs a staff of 11. It pays more than $500,000 annually in property taxes and makes lease payments totaling more than $500,000 annually to participating landowners.

The three companies also are working together on a similar-sized wind farm near Lake Ashtabula, between Cooperstown and Valley City, N.D.

The Langdon Wind Energy Center is FPL Energy's sixth -- and largest -- in North Dakota since it started developing wind energy in the state in 2003, according to John DiDonato, FPL Energy executive director.

FPL Energy has invested $8 billion in wind energy over the past several years. By the end of the summer, North Dakota will account for $1 billion of that total, he said.

"We love doing wind farms," said Mike O'Sullivan, FPL Energy senior vice president of development. "As a company, we really get a thrill coming to these events."

DiDonato said the Langdon community contributed greatly to the wind farm project.

When the company started looking to start wind testing -- it takes at least a year's worth of data -- in the spring of 2007, officials learned that Nekoma already had been tested. The Cavalier County Jobs Development Authority had financed a wind test and had a year's worth of data.

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"This facility is here today because of the positive, forward-looking leadership of this community," he said, singling out Carol Goodman, executive director of the Cavalier County JDA, for leading the effort.

The heart of the wind farm is located about four miles northeast of Nekoma, in the shadow of pyramid-like Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Complex, an anti-ballistic missile site that was built and abandoned in the 1970s. Nekoma is about 13 miles south of Langdon.

Minnkota Power, based in Grand Forks, is purchasing 99 megawatts of power from the FPL facility, which will provide Minnkota with about 350 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

That amounts to about 10 percent of the cooperative's energy sales to its 11 member-owner distribution cooperatives serving a 34,500-square-mile area and to 12 municipal utilities in the same region.

FPL Energy is selling another 19.5 megawatts to Otter Tail Power Co., Fergus Falls, Minn., which owns turbines producing another 40.5 megawatts.

Otter Tail serves 128,000 customers -- more than 250,000 people -- in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The territory stretches from the Canadian border in the north to Rugby and Garrison, N.D., in the west, Bemidji to the east and Milbank, S.D., to the south.

Chuck MacFarlane, president of Otter Tail Power Co., said a lot of favorable factors had to come together, including a rich wind resource, state tax incentives, a positive regulatory climate, cooperative landowners and neighbors and dedicated employees.

"As you know, construction in December and January in North Dakota is not for the meek," he said.

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The climate is just fine for wind farms, DiDonato pointed out.

"Colder air has more energy in it," he said.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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