March 24, 2010

County Commissioners look to regulate wind farms

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Wind is nothing new to McKenzie County. But harvesting that wind is, and last week’s Wind Energy Meeting was the first step in bringing wind harvesting information to the people of McKenzie County.
A wind turbine is a large windmill that converts the energy of wind into kinetic energy. Harvesting wind energy is still rather new to the state of North Dakota, and because of an influx of questions from area landowners, the McKenzie County Commission hosted a public meeting last Thursday on wind energy.
The two-hour meeting was organized to answer questions about wind farms and for the commission to see what kind of wind farming interest exists in McKenzie County.
“I’m sure this won’t be the end of the wind energy discussion in McKenzie County,” stated Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Job Development Authority executive director. “The purpose of this meeting was to bring in experts and get questions answered, and at the same time allow the commission to see if there is any interest in wind farming in the county.”
Because McKenzie County isn’t zoned, there are no local regulations on wind farms or wind turbines.
“I think McKenzie County is smart to have this meeting now, before any wind farms are erected,” said Tony Clark, North Dakota Public Service Commission. “The purpose of a meeting like this is to discuss all of the things a community wants to think about before wind turbines begin to go up.”
Clark’s main focus was regulations. Currently, the only regulations in McKenzie County are those set forth by the state of North Dakota.
“Some things to think about are where turbines can be placed and what happens to a turbine when it is no longer being used,” adds Clark. “North Dakota has standard regulations for these concerns, but many counties have decided to look at these things and create their own regulations.”
Speaking on behalf of the McKenzie County Commissioners was Dale Patten.
“I’m no expert on the subject,” added Patten. “But, we felt a meeting was needed to answer questions and decide what the commission should do next.”
According to Patten, the choices of the commission are to do nothing and assume the state regulations will be fine for the county or to set up some ordinances to address wind turbines and wind farms.
“The commission is reluctant to get into county zoning because we don’t want other people telling us how to use our land. Therefore, we don’t want to tell other people who own land in McKenzie County how to use their land,” stated Patten. “Instead of jumping into anything, we decided it would be best to see what area residents are interested in.”
The meeting gave residents useful information regarding the regulations. But the majority of the residents at the meeting seemed more interested in knowing the ins and outs of working with wind harvesting companies.
“Even the bad wind areas in North Dakota are better than the good areas in other states,” added Cole Gustafson, North Dakota State Unniversity Extension agent. “So I’m not surprised to see that most people at this meeting are interested in how leasing and wind farming work. But that’s a different meeting.”
Gustafson informed those at the meeting that his office has developed a meeting geared towards landowners and how to work with energy companies, a meeting he is willing to present at a later date.
The meeting concluded with the McKenzie County Commissioners determining that there is interest in wind farming in McKenzie County, leaving them with the difficult decision of how to regulate future wind farms.