The North Dakota Senate is considering two bills that could negatively impact the development of wind farms in the state, according to Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley.
Senate Bill 2314 was amended to include a two-year moratorium on new wind farm projects before it passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 4-3 vote Friday. Sen. Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah, said another amendment passed the committee Tuesday that would place a moratorium on wind projects until Aug. 1, 2019, “unless the (Public Service) Commission determines additional generation is needed for consumers in this state.”
Unruh said the amended bill, if it passes the Senate and House, would only allow wind farm construction in North Dakota in the next two years if the demand for electricity from North Dakota consumers could not be met by current generation capacity. Wind farms planned to feed electricity into the grid for utilities out of state would not be allowed.
North Dakota currently produces more than twice as much electricity as it consumes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Senate Bill 2314 is scheduled for a vote in the Senate today.
Betsy Engelking, vice president of Geronimo Energy, said her company has been watching the North Dakota Legislature closely as it dealt with wind energy.
“We’re still doing some evaluating,” she said.
She said the moratorium could make it difficult for any project not approved by the Public Service Commission prior to the moratorium to meet the deadlines for Production Tax Credits currently offered. Production Tax Credits are federal incentives that reduce costs for wind farm projects.
Brandenburg said there is another bill that could be just as damaging to the wind energy industry.
“Senate Bill 2313 was amended,” he said. “It creates a 1,500-foot setback. It would be impossible to build wind towers with that kind of setback.”
A setback is the required distance between a wind tower and another structure of the property of another person.
Engelking called the proposed setback rules “extreme.”
The bill, as amended, requires a setback of 1.1 times the height of the windtower from any property line of a nonparticipating landowner and three times the height of the windtower from the border of any quarter section of land where there is an occupied home that is not participating in the wind farm project.
SB 2313 passed the Senate Tuesday and will move to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Brandenburg said any additional regulations on the wind energy industry could cost Emmons, Logan, McIntosh and Dickey counties $1 billion in projects.
“It is getting to where we could lose the projects out of North Dakota,” he said.
In Stutsman County, Geronimo Energy developed the Courtenay Wind Farm, which went into operation in late 2016. It is in the planning stages of an additional project adjacent to the Courtenay Wind Farm.
“(The proposed regulations) are a real concern,” Engelking said. “We would have to talk about the project if these regulations come about.”
Brandenburg said three projects with 600 megawatts of capacity are in the planning stages for Emmons, Logan, Dickey and McIntosh counties. Those projects would have an estimated $1 billion in construction costs and bring 20 to 30 jobs to those areas.
Of the projects Brandenburg says are planned in the area, only the Merricourt Wind Farm has been approved by the Public Service Commission. The rest are in earlier stages of planning.
Don Frye, director of the Ellendale Job Development Authority, said wind farms have a positive impact on the economy where they are located.
The Tatanka Wind Farm is operational near Forbes in Dickey County. Plans call for two more wind farms in the county. In 2016, EDF Renewable Energy announced plans for the Merricourt Wind Project, and NextEra Energy announced plans for the Foxtail Wind Farm.
“(A moratorium) would be very negative to these communities,” he said, speaking of communities in the four-county area. “Wind farms generate a significant amount of property tax. That helps the school district in those areas.”
Wind farm construction brings construction workers to the area which boosts the revenues of local restaurants and retailers, which also brings in additional sales tax dollars for communities that have local sales tax.
Frye said the wind energy industry will invest in other states if North Dakota makes locating here difficult.
“Let the industry decide,” he said. “When we’re not competitive with other states, those projects will go to other states.”
Brandenburg said all forms of energy in North Dakota need to work together to increase exports from the state.
“We need to work together to get all forms of energy out of the state,” he said.
Senate Bill 2313 also includes an interim legislative study on developing a comprehensive state energy plan.
Unruh said the debate over a possible wind energy moratorium has started a discussion.
“It has forced us into a conversation on what we want our landscape and power grid to look like,” she said.
The discussion may force some wind energy companies to look outside North Dakota for future projects.
“To the extent North Dakota won’t be supportive, we may have to concentrate our efforts elsewhere,” Engelking said.
Frye said singling out wind energy for additional regulation isn’t the best way to develop the state’s resources.
“There is nobody talking about putting a moratorium on oil or coal development in North Dakota,” he said.