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Port: Does Big Wind even have the money to upgrade its turbines?

“The public was promised the skies would be dark,” Commissioner Brian Kroshus said. “It was what people expected, and it’s not going to be occurring in some areas.”

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Wind turbines dot the landscape around Courtenay, N.D. Forum News Service file photo

MINOT, N.D. — I used to live on Minot's north hill, and there were times when I'd go for a walk in the evening darkness, that I could look across the Souris River Valley and observe what appeared to be an alien invasion south of town.

What I saw marring the prairie night sky wasn't aliens, but rather the perpetually flashing red lights of a wind farm, one of many scattered across North Dakota's beautiful landscape.

These lights are an issue. So much so that, back during their 2017 session, lawmakers passed a law requiring mitigation for the lights. Big Wind was to implement technology that shuts the lights off, only turning them on when aircraft are near.

The deadline for newer wind farms was 2019. Older turbine installations, permitted before 2016, are to be retrofitted by the end of this year.

Big Wind has been dragging their feet. The three-member Public Service Commission has fined some companies for the delays and granted temporary exceptions for others . Earlier this year, in their 2021 session, lawmakers created some flexibility in the law, allowing the PSC to allow delays in installations due to economic or technological reasons.

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Prairie Wind Farm
The PrairieWinds 1, pictured here, and Minot Wind projects are owned and operated by Basin Electric Power Cooperative and located south of Minot, N.D.

Still, despite this cooperative and encouraging attitude from state government, the wind industry continues to drag their feet.

“I’m not feeling real optimistic that they’re all going to comply,” Public Service Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak told the Bismarck Tribune .

“The public was promised the skies would be dark,” Commissioner Brian Kroshus said. “It was what people expected, and it’s not going to be occurring in some areas.”

The why of this needs some deep scrutiny.

READ MORE FROM ROB PORT

We should be very, very worried that Big Wind, upon which, thanks to a maze of government subsidies and mandates we are increasingly dependent to keep the lights on, isn't as financially sound as we'd like to think.
There have been some legitimate reasons for delays — around Minot, the military objected to dimming the lights because it might allow keen observers to track helicopters serving nuclear missile installations — but on the whole, it seems like money is often a reason why many of these companies can't afford the lights.

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That's scary.

Jeff Thornton, a truck driver for Global Specialized Services, inspects a 25,000-pound wind turbine blade that is loaded off a semi Friday at a railyard north of Grand Forks. The blade is one of dozens waiting to be shipped by rail to Kansas, where customers hope to build wind farms. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Jeff Thornton, a truck driver for Global Specialized Services, inspects a 25,000-pound wind turbine blade that is loaded off a semi Friday at a railyard north of Grand Forks. The blade is one of dozens waiting to be shipped by rail to Kansas, where customers hope to build wind farms. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Remember that the wind industry insists they no longer need a massive production subsidy from the federal government. I've sat at a table with wind industry lobbyists who have told me that very thing. The need for the subsidy has passed, they claim.

And yet, like magic, that subsidy, which has been set to expire for years now, keeps getting quietly renewed by Congress, over and over again. It happened last year .

It happened again this year .

One explanation for this is plain old corporate greed. The hogs rarely object to their troughs getting slopped by the government.

But another is that the wind industry, despite decades worth of runway in the form of subsidies and mandates provided by the American taxpayer, still isn't ready to take flight on its own.

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Maybe that's the reason Big Wind can't let go of its subsidies.

Maybe that's why Big Wind can't afford to comply with North Dakota's light mitigation requirements, despite plenty of flexibility and accommodation provided by lawmakers.

The public deserves to know the answers.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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