BISMARCK – State utility regulators approved a permit for a $240 million wind farm in western North Dakota on Wednesday.

The state Public Service Commission voted unanimously to grant a permit for Antelope Hills Wind Project LLC of Santa Barbara, Calif., to erect up to 86 wind turbines on 22,000 acres of land northwest of Beulah in Mercer County.

Bismarck-based Basin Electric Power Cooperative signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with Antelope last year for the full output of the 172-megawatt wind farm.

The project will support as many as 250 to 300 direct construction jobs, Antelope stated in its permit application. The company hopes to have the wind farm in service by late 2015, PSC Chairman Brian Kalk said.

Commissioner Julie Fedorchak noted the siting permit approval came the morning after the U.S. Senate passed a one-year extension of the federal renewable energy production tax credit.

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Senators extended the tax credit retroactive to its prior Jan. 1 expiration date, leaving developers of pending projects only two weeks to commence construction if they want to take advantage of the credit before it expires again Dec. 31.

North Dakota currently has just over 1,600 megawatts of wind power in operation and more than 1,200 megawatts approved and in various stages of development, including the Antelope project, Fedorchak said.

The average price of wind power has been dropping considerably, to a large degree because of the tax credit, Fedorchak said. Wind turbine costs also are declining and technology is improving, she said.

“So the industry is advancing and developing. I think it’s an important part of the all-of-the-above energy strategy. We have to make sure we have the good, reliable traditional generation to back wind up, but the wind is blowing,” she said.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said wind power is a “significant part of the solution” to northwest North Dakota’s need for more power in coming years. However, he added, “It does concern me, as we continue to grow the amount of wind power that’s making up our generation system, exactly what’s going to happen in the future when we get some real calm days when it’s extraordinarily hot or extraordinarily cold.”

Antelope also has applied for a route permit for a 9.5-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line that will carry power from the wind farm to a connection at Basin Electric’s Antelope Valley Station, a coal-based power plant northwest of Beulah.