A public meeting regarding a proposed wind farm in Bowman County turned contentious when Senior Development Manager Mark Mauersberger opened his presentation up for questions from the audience.
By COLE BENZ
Mauersberger, with Apex Clean Energy, was in Bowman on Wednesday, Oct. 25 to give the public a brief overview of the proposed project, which is slated to span approximately 40,000 acres in Rhame, Bowman and Griffen. It is estimated to produce around 200 mega watts of clean energy when fully operational, according to Mauersberger.
The point of the presentation, Mauersberger said, was to give a brief introduction on Apex as a company, discuss how proposed project meets or succeeds Bowman and state zoning rules, discuss risks to the Bowman County landowner financial benefits by adopting prohibitive land use restrictions, provide with some project timelines, and to answer questions.
The company is aiming to begin commercial operations late in 2019 or early 2020 and the estimated timeline for construction could take between six and eight months.
Setback rules for the individual turbines, which Mauersberger said was adhering to local zoning laws, has resident setback of 2,000 feet, 567 feet for road setback, and a property line setback of 541 feet. He also said that the blade height shouldn’t exceed 500 feet without additional Federal Aviation Administration approval.
Mauersberger said that the top priorities for setbacks is to reduce noise to occupied structures and reduce lighting flicker.
“The home sites that are there we want to respect, [so] that we’re not going to create any undue noise,” he said. “What I always tell folks is if you have a question about the level of noise, go up to Hettinger, go to New England and stand next to one yourself, don’t take anyone’s word for it, go stand there yourself, that’s what I encourage people [to do].”
The new turbines are magnetically driven, which makes them relatively quiet compared to the older, gear-driven models.
“We understand [the setbacks] and we are conforming to them,” he said. “And in many cases exceeding them. And we’re going to continue to conform to them, we’re going to continue to try to optimize the site, so we’re maximizing the distances from homesites, roads, and any other objectionable distance.”
As Mauersberger wrapped up his portion of the evening’s presentation, he opened the floor up for questions.
Some people of the audience claimed they had been told different things from what Mauersberger presented, such as the different payment structures Apex offers land owners. Much of that confusion, as it appeared, was the result of Mauersberger taking over the project from another manager after the initial planning meetings had begun.
But the strongest voice of opposition came from Bowman County native Linda Paulson, who questioned the company’s transparency, saying that because they are a limited liability corporation, they don’t have to disclose much of their company’s details, like who are their investors.
“We don’t know who their investors are,” she said.
Paulson—who currently resides outside of Bowman County—cited studies and literature opposing wind farms, and also named lawsuits and liens against the company.
Mauersberger told the audience to research everyone of Paulson’s claims.
“I encourage you to research everything she said, please do,” he said. “Everything she mentioned please research it. Any of the law suits she claims, the liens.”
But for Paulson, her biggest qualm with the proposed wind farm in general is the cost of decommissioning the turbines after their life span has expired. Her concern is for the citizens of the county being force to pay for the cost of tearing down the turbines.
But Mauersberger said that money is put to a bonding agency that will be used for the cost of decommissioning the turbines. The bond is funded over time and kicks in at the 10th year, Mauersberger said. But Paulson would like to see that money put into an institution closer to home, like the Bank of North Dakota, or even closer at Dakota Western Bank. She also reiterated her desire for the people of her home area to just be knowledgeable in the company and the process.
“I’m here to convey some factual information to my friends, to the people I grew up with, and I want them to know what they’re getting into,” she said. “They’re each very smart, they know what they’re doing, and they need to know what Apex is all about.”
Mauersberger agreed, that people should know as much as they can. Just as he suggested people with concern over the noise should drive to a nearby wind farm in Hettinger or New England to hear for themselves. He also said at the meeting that Apex will be setting up an office on Main Street in Bowman, and hopefully improve the communication between the company and the community.
“We try to interact with you folks as much as we can, as much as humanly possible…we are going to be opening an office,” Mauersberger said. “I’m hoping that the line of communications will be more fluid than they have been in the past.”