The howling flats of North Dakota are where Birmingham-based Southern Power hopes to build its next big wind farm — 47 turbines spread across 16,000 acres of lonesome Ward and McHenry counties.
That is, so long as the U.S. Air Force doesn’t get in the way.
The state Public Service Commission of North Dakota, in mid-June, held a public hearing to see if the Alabama company can extend its alternative energy holdings to the northernmost reaches of the U.S. Ward and McHenry counties are near the U.S. and Saskatchewan border, and they have more cows than people. The people spread out on average about two per square mile.
Southern Power, specializing in alternative energy, is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based power giant Southern Company. Southern Power develops solar, wind and natural gas generating plants and sells the power on the wholesale market, largely to regional and municipal electric companies.
“PSC Chairman Brian Kroshus wanted to know why, even with the scaled back plan, the wind farm would cover so much territory,” reported KXNE, in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Originally, Southern power planned to build 53 wind turbines over a 36,000-acre area. That proposal was turned down by the PSC just weeks before the latest, scaled-back proposal was aired at a new hearing.
“Part of the reason we’re spreading out is we’re avoiding impacting areas that we need to avoid,” said Morgan Berry, an official with Southern Power subsidiary Ruso Wind Partners, the developers applying for the permit.
An attorney for the PSC said the Air Force submitted statements that the sea of wind turbines could be a problem for helicopter flights, missile launches and weather radar.
The Air Force is the only branch of the military with bases in North Dakota. It has two —in Minot and Grand Forks, both in the north half of the state.
Industrial wind turbines hover at above 300 feet, with blades more than 100 feet, atop towers more than 200 feet high.
A Southern Power spokesperson told Business Alabama the company received a letter from the Air Force prior to the hearing and the company remains committed to working with the Air Force on addressing their concerns.
The project has well-established support of landowners and local governments, Berry told the PSC, according to KXNE. He also estimated capital investment in the project at $250 million. Construction would employ 200 workers and would take more than one year, he said.
The PSC, reported KXNE, is expected to rule on the Ruso Wind Partners project within a couple of months.
Southern Power owns 11 wind farms — five in Texas, four in Oklahoma and one each in Maine and Kansas. They range from 40 to 299 megawatts and total more than 1,920 megawatts. The smallest farm comprises 13 turbines and the largest 130.
Federal tax breaks on alternative energy investment is a main ingredient in Southern Power’s wind and solar energy projects. On May 22, 2018, Southern Power sold a non-controlling 33 percent tax equity interest in SP Solar for approximately $1.2 billion. And on December 11, 2018, Southern Power sold a non-controlling equity interest in SP Wind to three financial investors for approximately $1.2 billion.
At December 31, 2018, SP Wind, the wind subsidiary of Southern Power, had total assets of $2.5 billion, total liabilities of $51 million and non-controlling interests of $47 million.