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Wind power development slows down in North Dakota

We’ve gotten used to seeing giant wind turbine blades moving across the state. And we’ve been watching the ever-changing landscape as those new wind farms pop up.

But the pace might be slowing down rapidly.

Many power companies were rushing to get new wind projects online by the end of 2010.

And they did. Now that it`s 2011, the demand for continued wind farm developments is down all across the nation.

The blades at this 64-tower wind farm near Baldwin, N.D., started turning less than a month ago. But it’s one of the last ones that Basin Electric will be involved in building for several years.

“We’ve kind of reached our plateau for wind energy development, actually all of our energy development,” said Daryl Hill with Basing Electric Power Cooperative. “At this point we have enough to meet our needs for the next several years.”

The cooperative`s members passed a resolution several years ago saying that by 2010, Basin Electric had to provide 10 percent of its power from renewable resources.

“We have met that goal, and we did meet that goal by the end of 2010,” said Hill.

Other wind companies were rushing to build projects by 2010 for another reason: it marked the end of a national energy tax credit program.

“It’s a national market issue right now,” said Paul Lucy, director of the North Dakota Economic Development Division. ” If you look at the stats put out by the American Wind Energy Association, depending upon which quarter of the year you look at, they’ve seen a decline in the installation of wind power, wind generation farms anywhere from 50 to 70 percent.”

There is no federal energy policy, and Lucy says until there is, there’s no telling when the market for wind power will pick back up.

“Without an energy policy, we have some uncertainty in the industry, which creates an unstable business environment,” added Lucy. “Utilities then become less eager to enter in to those power purchase agreements.”

Without that demand, wind farm equipment manufacturing companies throughout the country, including North Dakota, have been laying off employees.

But Lucy says there are still a number of farms under construction in the state and more than 6,000 megawatts of wind energy proposed if the demand for that power comes back.

Another obstacle for wind farms is a lack of transmission lines. Lucy says a federal energy policy would also help address that issue.