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Good things in the wind

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With the partially constructed Courtenay Community Hall in the background, Blake Nixon, CEO of Geronimo Energy, talks about the Courtenay Wind Farm. Geronimo Energy developed the wind farm and is funding a community fund for the area at $40,000 per year for 20 years. Keith Norman / The Sun2 / 3
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp accepted a Wind Champion Award Wednesday at Courtenay. Keith Norman / The Sun3 / 3

COURTENAY, N.D.— The winds are blowing some good things to the community of Courtenay, according to Darold Soupir, an area farmer.

"Look at it," he said. "There are about 40 people in the community but there is a lot going on."

The most visible thing happening is the construction of the new community hall. The project has an estimated cost of about $230,000, not including volunteer labor, and was made possible with community funds provided by Geronimo Energy, the developer of the Courtenay Wind Farm project.

The construction of the community hall and the wind farm in general were celebrated by local residents and wind industry officials Wednesday. The event included the presentation of a 2018 Wind Champion Award from the American Wind Energy Association to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., for her efforts in promoting wind energy in the past.

"The community fund is $40,000 per year for 20 years," Soupir said. "That's the reason the community center is going up. It's a big boost to the community."

Geronimo Energy recruited the landowners and designed the $300 million wind farm that includes 100 wind turbines capable of generating 200 megawatts of electricity. The project was constructed in 2016 and then turned over to Excel Energy, which operates the wind farm.

Nixon said setting up the community fund was one way Geronimo Energy maintained its focus on community and agriculture.

"It is part of our way of giving back," he said. "The community fund is food for our souls."

For the farmers and landowners in the community, the wind farm has been a positive in several ways beyond the new community hall under construction.

"The people they hired for the construction worked through the harvest with no problems," Soupir said. "They left the roads better than they were when they started."

Steve Somsen, another Courtenay area landowner, said some people have wondered about the locations of the roads and turbines in the fields being an inconvenience.

"We've got rock piles and tree stands that are bigger obstacles to farm around," he said.

Somsen said the community fund made projects like the community hall and upgrades to the fire hall possible without "overtaxing the patrons."

Wind energy operations work best in rural communities like Courtenay, according to Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.

"You need the wind resource, which North Dakota has," he said, "and we're able to lease the land. Wind energy pays out $5 million to $10 million (across North Dakota) in lease payments rain or shine."

Kiernan said wind energy has a strong presence in North Dakota, amounting to about 27 percent of the electricity produced in the state.

"The future is very exciting, too," he said. "There are more under construction and cost of construction is down about two-thirds in the last seven years."

Changes in design have accounted for some of the cost reductions but new technology in meteorology and computer software has improved the amount of electricity produced by each turbine making the industry more efficient.

Kiernan presented Heitkamp with a Wind Champion Award.

"Her leadership in negotiating a five-year extension and then a phase out of the production tax credit is one of the reasons wind energy has this success," he said.

Heitkamp said North Dakota has great resources of all types of energy.

"And when you have people who can work together, you have it all," she said. "We've always been powered in rural America by wind but to power the rest of the country is a gift we can give."

The success of wind energy makes projects possible in small towns.

"Courtenay building the community center is one of the many benefits of wind energy," Kiernan said. "The consumer getting cheaper power is another."

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