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Conditions improving for wind farm development

With the help of landowners in Burke, Mountrail and northern Ward counties, the Hartland Wind Farm project continues to develop, with conditions becoming even more favorable given current attitudes at the state and national levels.

2/11/09 (Wed)

 

By Caroline Downs
 
With the help of landowners in Burke, Mountrail and northern Ward counties, the Hartland Wind Farm project continues to develop, with conditions becoming even more favorable given current attitudes at the state and national levels.
 
Curt Johnson, a principal with Denali Energy which has partnered with Montgomery Energy to develop the 2,000 megawatt wind project, delivered that message during meetings held the last week of January in Kenmare and Bowbells.
 
The sessions were intended to inform landowners and area residents new to the project, as well as those who had already signed on, about the progress of Hartland Wind Farm. Johnson started at the top, citing an emphasis by President Obama’s new administration to support renewable energy projects and plans to upgrade the national transmission grid.
 
He continued by describing the proposal announced in December by American Electric Powers (AEP) to construct an extra high voltage transmission line from a point south of Kenmare near the townsite of Hartland to an eastern terminus near Chicago. “That’s a major development,” Johnson said. “We can’t speak enough about the importance of this.”
 
Using the familiar North Dakota wind resource map, Johnson pointed out how AEP’s transmission proposal would benefit other wind projects in North Dakota and South Dakota. He also described how Hartland Wind Farm expected its turbines to operate at 43 to 45 percent capacity, based on the wind characteristics in this area, compared to successful wind farms in South Dakota, California and Texas that operated in upper 30 percent range on a good day.
 
AEP will have constant access to power generated in this area even when the wind doesn’t blow, because Hartland Wind Farm intends to utilize natural gas, currently flared off by oilfield activity, in a firming facility to supply electricity at times when the wind peaks down. “We’re going to have a very consistent, desirable form of energy that they’re going to be needing and wanting in Illinois,” Johnson said.
 
Enter the landowner. Johnson explained how Hartland Wind Farm wanted the opportunity to develop a focus area of about 360 square miles, or 800,000 acres, concentrated around the Missouri Coteau in northwestern North Dakota. The project is planned for four phases of 500 MW each, using 1.5 to 2.0 MW wind turbine generators, or an estimated 333 wind turbines per phase.
 
Hartland Wind Farm is projected to do more than make money for its principals, however. Johnson predicts a stimulated economy for the region, with skilled technicians entering the work force and requiring housing, education, goods and services from communities in the area. Hartland Wind Farm is also working with state tax officials to study ways the increased tax revenues, about $20,000 per turbine paid by Hartland Wind Farm, could be returned to the school districts, counties and townships impacted by the wind project.
 
Of course, the landowners will benefit, too, in a manner that Johnson hopes will not adversely affect current agricultural practices. “There’s a resource there that is pretty easily harvested and developed,” he said. “We’re not replacing farming, but supplementing it.”
 
To that end, Hartland Wind Farm invited landowners to review the project’s option and easement agreements. Jon Dostal, one of the project managers, explained the documents and their differences.
 
According to Dostal, the five-year option agreement, with payment of $1 per acre per year, would allow Hartland Wind Farm representatives and engineers to conduct the research necessary on that parcel of land for determining the best placement of wind turbines, underground cable and any other facilities or infrastructure associated with the project.
 
“Without the cooperation of the landowners, we wouldn’t be here,” Dostal said. “This says you’re interested and allows us to do our investigation.”
 
Hartland Wind Farm has achieved one milestone, with more than 45,000 acres under option in southern Ward County around Berthold, Donnybrook and Carpio. “That was enough land to move forward with the planning and engineering of that first phase,” said Dostal.
 
Two more milestone regions have been identified, including portions of Burke County and the townships around Kenmare, as well as portions of Mountrail County. To date, about 77,000 acres total have been optioned for the project, but Hartland Wind Farm has not yet reached its threshold for the second or third milestone regions. Payment to landowners within a specified milestone region begins once the threshold acreage has been optioned.
 
Dostal explained the option agreement does not guarantee siting of a wind turbine on a particular landowner’s property. On the other hand, acres held by landowners who refrain from signing an option agreement will not be considered for wind turbines.
 
He emphasized the importance of communication between the landowner and Hartland Wind Farm during the option period. “We need notification of existing encumbrances on your property,” he said, listing commitments like grassland easements, mineral rights, drilling plans, CRP acres, etc. “We don’t want to interfere with any current uses going on with your property or any planned uses.”
 
Easement agreements will be offered for sites chosen for wind turbines, underground cabling, and other infrastructure related to the project. Dostal said those agreements are written for 40 years, and easements will only be recorded on the specific acres needed for the project purposes. Landowners will meet with the engineers to discuss those sites, and no work will take place until the landowners understand and agree to the project’s plans.
 
Payment on the easement agreements depends on the use of the acres in question. If a turbine is placed on the site, the landowner receives $2,000 per year until the equipment is operational. Then the landowner is paid two percent of the gross operating proceeds.
 
Dostal offered an example of the annual revenue projected from a single turbine, with the current local price of 4 cents per kilowatt hour generating $414,000 in annual revenue, with the landowner receiving $8,280 for the year.
 
However, Hartland Wind Farm intends to negotiate its price, given the market for electricity in Chicago is typically higher than North Dakota and power currently sells for about 8 cents per kilowatt hour or more. In that case, any landowners with turbines on their property would share in those higher revenues.
 
The easement agreement contains additional information about Hartland Wind Farm’s responsibility for crop damages incurred, restoring property after a wind turbine is removed, minimizing liability for landowners and the company’s payment of increased property taxes related to the improvements made by the wind project.
 
Members of the audience voiced several questions, including an interest in the number of turbines allowed per quarter. Johnson said the location of turbines would be a matter of practicality, given the topography and presence of roads in the area. He said that generally, the types of turbines planned for use by Hartland Wind Farm were positioned about a quarter mile from each latitudinally and a half mile apart longitudinally. The turbines themselves stand 230 feet high, with 130-foot blades.
 
In regard to the future of the wind project, once the turbines are operational, Johnson said the easement agreements are severable from the property in cases where the landowners sold their land. Also, Hartland Wind Farm has no intention of selling their developments, even though some entities have already indicated their interest. Johnson noted the security of the project’s financial resources, despite economic troubles throughout the nation. “We will not release control of this project,” he said.
 
One landowner asked about road maintenance, which Johnson said would be the subject of discussions with the counties involved. “We’ll be maintaining our roads as best as we can, and we’ll work with the counties to keep the roads in condition,” he said. “We have to have 24/7 access to these towers to guaranty power, so we may need to develop a comprehensive maintenance plan.”
 
Johnson described the underground cabling planned to connect the towers and transport power to the transmission line, with the intention of burying the cables deep enough to avoid problems with farm equipment. He also mentioned concerns with migrating birds, especially endangered whooping cranes, and said he was already cooperating with officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region office in Denver, CO, to develop ways to minimize any threats to the cranes.
 
“There’s not one example of a [whooping crane] kill by a turbine,” he said. “The risk is from the transmission lines, which is another reason to go underground with those as much as we can.”
 
Both Dostal and Johnson encouraged landowners in the crowd to study the paperwork offered by Hartland Wind Farm and consult with attorneys before signing the agreements. “We will stop at nothing to answer questions you have about the documents,” Johnson said.
 
Anyone with further questions about Hartland Wind Farm or Denali Energy’s interest in working with landowners in the area should contact Craig Swenson toll-free at 1-877-557-1031 or by calling 218-824-5000. Information can also be found at project’s website www.denalicompanies.com.