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PSC fines MDU $2000 for missing a wind farm lighting deadline

The Public Service Commission has fined Bismarck-based MDU $2000 for missing a state law-imposed deadline for replacing its lighting system at the Thunder Spirit Wind Farm in Adams County – by four days.

State law required that wind farms that had been established before June 5th, 2016 must have functioning light-mitigating technology systems. Those systems replaced the constantly-blinking red lights in the turbine towers. Those new systems had to be in place by Dec. 31st, 2021.

But MDU had asked the PSC an extension, as it was exploring the LIDS system – for Light Intensity Dimming Systems – instead of the FAA-approved ADLS, or Aircraft Detection Light System. The utility was waiting for FAA approval of that system – so the Commission gave MDU until Dec. 31st, 2022.

However, the approval for LIDS never came. So MDU went ahead in July 2021 to order equipment for ADLS. That installation was completed in October, 2022, and testing was completed on Dec. 30th of that year.

"But they (MDU) didn't get final FAA approval until Jan 4th of 2023, which is four days after the deadline," said Commissioner Julie Fedorchak.

Fedorchak said PSC staff negotiated a “consent agreement” – under which MDU agreed to the $2000 fine, or $500 per day.

"That's in line with the rate for others who missed the deadline," Fedorchak said. "They did make a good faith effort to meet the deadline."

But PSC Chairman Randy Christmann had some concerns.

"They were warned that some of us were very doubtful that the LIDS technology was going to get approved by the FAA,' Christmann said. "But of course, they knew better, and talked us into the extension."

Christmann said the neighbors were subjected to looking at those red lights for an extra year.

"But even after the extra delay, they still had to cut it right to the edge, and then couldn't quite make it," Christmann said.

But all three Commissioners voted in favor of the settlement agreement.

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