Agency hears concerns about wind farms near air baseGRAND FORKS, N.D. - The wind might blow forever in North Dakota, but there’s no guarantee it can be turned into an environmental and economic resource in northern Grand Forks County.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald, Worthington Daily Globe
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The wind might blow forever in North Dakota, but there’s no guarantee it can be turned into an environmental and economic resource in northern Grand Forks County.
That’s because the giant wind turbines could interfere with radar used to track both manned and unmanned aircraft at Grand Forks International Airport, currently the 21st busiest airport in the nation, and Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is developing a strategic mission of hosting Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.
The North Dakota Public Service Commission held an informal meeting in Grand Forks on Wednesday to hear concerns over a proposed wind farm — with as many as 70 wind towers, each containing 2-megawatt turbines — in the vicinity of Niagara and Petersburg, N.D., in western Grand Forks and eastern Nelson counties.
“We are not opposed to wind generation,” said Col. Joe Douez, from Grand Forks Air Force Base. “We are just concerned about wind turbines and how they might interfere with our radar operations. It’s a safety issue. We’d like to analyze any development within 25 miles of the base before it is approved.”
Al Palmer, director of UND’s unmanned aerial systems center, said UND would oppose any development that would limit its ability to develop UAS programs. In March 2011, UND plans to start a full-scale UAS training program at the air base.
In addition, he said, currently, a manned aircraft either takes off or lands at the Grand Forks airport every 1.8 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“There’s an issue not just with UAVs, but with UND Aviation,” he said.
PSC Commissioner Tony Clark said the state regulatory agency likely will draft legislation to address issues such as where wind farms can be sited near air bases and airports.
“I think the issue of radar already is on the radar screen of the wind industry around the country,” he said. “These things will be discussed as a part of public policy in the next few years.”
PSC Commissioner Brian Kalk is skeptical of any wind farm development near the air base. He said air bases in metropolitan areas throughout the nation already face UAS airspace restrictions.
“Why would we want to allow any encroachment within the airspace of Grand Forks Air Force Base?” he said. “We could use our open space as a draw for potential future missions for the base.”
That doesn’t sit well with some Niagara-area residents, who could profit from having wind turbines on their property.
“We live on a hill,” Patsy Strand said. “We don’t have people rushing out to build homes or to put up factories where we live. We’ve had missile sites here. Our taxes have gone up to provide roads and services to support them.
“If a company comes to me and wants to put up a wind turbine on my land, so I might benefit, I want to be able to say yes.”
PSC commissioners said it important to get the issues on the table, before it is asked to decide whether to approve a wind farm in western Grand Forks County, adding that the issue has statewide significance.
“We’re here to try to find a balance, and we’re ahead of the game and take some time to find that balance,” PSC Commissioner Kevin Cramer said.
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to email@example.com.