Payments for landowners who live near wind projects could prevent a backlash from rural North Dakota residents who believe they've been treated unfairly, the Democratic candidate for the state Public Service Commission said Monday.
The PSC and the North Dakota Legislature have not been attentive to the rights of such landowners, whose ability to build wind projects can be affected by another project close by, Crabtree said. The Public Service Commission regulates the placement of wind farms capable of generating more than 60 megawatts of power.
Crabtree's Republican opponent, incumbent Kevin Cramer, said Crabtree's ideas would make North Dakota wind development more difficult. He said wind turbine placement issues between landowners can be settled by the property owners themselves.
"I think it's not government's business. I think the relationship between landowners and the developers is a contractual one," Cramer said. "I don't agree with it as a philosophy, nor do I think that it's necessary."
Crabtree suggested at a news conference Monday that the Legislature and state regulators develop formulas for compensating landowners who are next door to a wind project but do not have turbines on their own property. Landowners who host turbines are paid by the wind farm's developer and receive regular checks, based on how much power the turbines generate.
"Today in North Dakota, wind energy development is a lot like winning the lottery," Crabtree said. "Any landowner who gets a turbine gets all the cash, and the next landowner that doesn't get the turbine, but contributes his or her resource, gets the equivalent of dinner for two in the local cafe. ... What it does is, it breeds resentment. It breeds hostility to the industry."
Crabtree said he believes the lack of state requirements that a turbine be set back a certain distance from a neighboring landowner's property line deprives the neighbor of wind energy rights.
For example, two neighbors may own parts of the same hilltop, but the person who builds a turbine on the hilltop first makes it impractical for his or her neighbor to do so. The wind flow to the second turbine would be disturbed, thus making it less efficient at generating energy.
During the 2009 legislative session, a bill requiring the Public Service Commission to draft minimum setback requirements for commercial wind turbines was defeated in the North Dakota House by two votes.
Crabtree said he believed the idea was gaining support.
"We have been seeing more and more problems with homeowners that literally live on the edge of a wind farm feeling like they have not been treated properly by developers, that, in effect, have had their rights violated, and have not been offered any type of appropriate compensation to address their concerns," he said.