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Wind farm repowering decision delayed

The owners of a wind farm near Valley City want to re-power the existing farm, by installing larger turbines and bigger blades.

But the North Dakota Public Service Commission isn’t yet ready to give it the go-ahead.

The Ashtabula Wind Energy Center was built by NextEra Energy. Part of the farm was sold to Otter Tail Power. NextEra wants to raise the capacity from its part of the center from the current 148.5 megawatts to 160.4 megawatts.

Commissioner Randy Christmann asked that a decision be postponed. He says he has some concerns about potential re-powering in the future. He said the company wants to drop any reference to capacity numbers from the proposed Commission order.

"To completely eliminate that, means far out into the future, there is no capacity on it, and basically the sky's the limit," Christmann said. "I think that's not the best way for us to go, and I think we should keep the capacity limits on them."

But Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said the Legislature, several sessions ago, passed what’s known as the “footprint” law – in that an energy company that gets a siting permit will be able to do pretty much anything it wants, within reason, as long as it is within that siting footprint.

"We're seeing this in other facilities, such as pipelines, where they're expanding beyond their capacity contemplated in the original filing," Fedorchak said. "They're using this procedure established in law."

Christmann responded that the law also says the PSC must make sure there is “orderly” development of energy facilities – and he worries about congestion on the power grid.

"These 99 turbines could go from 1.5 megawatts to, hard telling how much," Christmann said. "It could cause enormous congestion problems, and that would not be orderly development."

The PSC will hold a “work session” on the matter. Christmann also said he hopes the Legislature would take another look at the "footprint" law.

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