Group of landowners drive wind farm project forward
Posted 1/13/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Power generated at a proposed wind farm just north of Tioga is already spoken for, taking a project from the talking stage to actual construction. Last month, Basin Electric Power Cooperative signed a power purchase agreement with Tradewind Energy to buy the power. “It’s the gold key to the project going forward. It’s a significant milestone,” said Brice Barton, senior development manager for Tradewind Energy. If things go according to plan, 75 wind turbines will be spread out over about 20,000 acres of farmland, with construction beginning in the summer of 2016. Tradewind, based in Lenexa, Kans., refers to the Tioga area wind farm as the Lindahl Wind Project. It began when a group of farmers and ranchers decided to be the drivers of their own destiny in the heart of an area where industry sometimes clashes with the interests of landowners.
Setting the stage
The story of the Lindahl Wind Project starts at the North Fork Lodge, which sits five miles north of Tioga. Dallas Lalim has been running the place part-time for the better part of 19 years, providing accommodations for hunters and golfers. Most recently, he’s provided lodging to a company that was involved in the Hess gas plant expansion. The place has a welcoming décor with rooms that are themed according to various eras in the state’s history from the Native Americans to the trappers to the homesteaders. A hundred feet from the main lodge is a smaller bed and breakfast. From the outside, it’s just a corrugated metal hanger, but the inside is renovated with irregularly cut old logs to give the place an attractive rustic hunting cabin look. Lalim is a lifelong rancher and farmer, and the mantle is made from half a log and etched with the brandings of family and friends, including his own brand. “It wasn’t our goal in life to run a bed and breakfast, but it’s something we do,” he says. In 2008, a renewable energy developer was looking at some advertisements for the lodge and he saw in a picture a power line that runs along the property’s east flank. That’s when the calls started coming in, initiating a discussion on installing wind turbines on the property. At first, Lalim wasn’t interested. “I blew him off a couple times,” he says. “The second time he called, I asked him, ‘Why are you bothering me? The wind blows all over North Dakota.’” The power line was a key component to a successful wind farm. The state has plenty of wind, but building the transmission infrastructure makes such a project cost prohibitive. The developer determined the existing lines had capacity, making the area an attractive site for a wind farm. Lalim decided to consider the man’s proposal and the project began to proceed. But just as soon as the ball started rolling, the recession hit and it all came to a grinding halt. “That deal fell apart,” Lalim says.
Seizing the reins
While that project never materialized, the developer left an impression on Lalim as to the possibilities for a wind energy project on his land. In 2009, he went to a wind energy seminar in Bismarck and met with representatives of the industry. With a growing understanding of the industry, he got an idea to coordinate with other landowners in the area to build a wind farm. “A group of us decided to start a landowner project,” Lalim says. By the following year, Lalim was helping to manage a collaboration of about 20 landowners in and around where the project is planned. The first step was to develop a lease. They hired a consultant and the group spent some six months coming up with something they felt was right. “Our first goal was protecting landowners,” he says. Starting with a lease used on a state-run project, a consultant tweaked it into something the landowners north of Tioga could agree upon. Lalim says the leases will be “very lucrative” for the landowners. “We got it set up on a royalty basis, just like an oil income,” he says. Not every landowner will have turbines on his or her land, but Lalim says the lease doesn’t just push them aside. The lease is designed so that anyone in the area who is impacted by the project will share in part of the royalty payments. Once the lease was developed, the group began looking for a developer who could bring the project to fruition. “When the landowners do it, then you have more control. They don’t pick you. You pick them,” Lalim said.
Tradewind was looking for ways to tap into North Dakota’s growing wind industry. The company has put one gigawatt in power generation into grids from six wind farms and one solar project. “We’ve been in the wind business for 14 years. In the grand scheme of the world, that’s not that much. But in terms of wind, that’s a long time,” Barton says. When the Lindahl landowners took a look at the company’s reputation, Lalim says they saw it as a very good fit for the way they wanted the project developed. “When Tradewind approached us, we were just tickled to death,” Lalim says. One of the aspects that impressed Lalim was that the company develops projects away from population centers. They work in rural communities and many of the company’s top people, including Barton, grew up on farms. “They understand quality of life and respecting farmers,” Lalim says. It’s not quite a done deal, yet. Before construction begins, the company must weather a complicated set of local, state, and federal permits, in addition to further development of the plans. The Williams County Planning and Zoning Commission last week tabled the company’s request for a conditional use permit after some residents at the meeting voiced concerns over the project. Williams County Planning and Zoning Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk says the hearing attracted a sizeable crowd. “It was a full house,” he says. Cymbaluk says there was a lot of support for the project, but there were also concerns over noise, maintenance of the structures, and how reclamation would be handled. The commission decided to table the request for the permit to give Tradewind more time to educate the people living in the area on the project. “We felt it was important to get feedback from the commission of the City of Tioga and the people living in that area.” According to Lalim, the company was under certain contractual agreements that restricted their ability to discuss the project more openly with the public. With the deal announced, Tradewind began meeting with city officials last week.
On Jan. 20 and 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., company representatives will be holding public information sessions at the Neset Consulting offices for those who want to learn more about the project.
The company is also planning on doing a presentation on the Lindahl Wind Project at a Tioga Commission meeting in the near future.
For now, the project is sailing forward.