Amendment Would Seek a Moratorium on Approving New Wind Power Projects in North Dakota

In its original form SB2314, introduced by Republican Senator Jessica Unruh of Beulah, would have addressed power companies seeking rate hikes here in North Dakota to pay for compliance with green power mandates in other states. It also would have moved North Dakota’s renewable energy mandate (which has long since been satisfied) from the law and replaced it with a policy stating that power dispatched in our state should be done in accordance with market factors. In other words, the bill would have required that the lowest cost power be dispatched first.

Currently wind power, despite being both unreliable and expensive, gets dispatched first. Meaning wind power producers get to sell all of their power first. This leaves power sources such as coal and natural gas with a conundrum. When the wind is blowing they only get table scraps. Whatever is left over after wind’s power is dispatched. But they also have to be ready to provide the power grid with all the energy it needs when the wind isn’t blowing.

Unruh’s original bill was good policy, I think. Unfortunately it’s been hog housed by an amendment from Senator Dwight Cook (R-Mandan) which puts in place a moratorium on permitting any new wind projects from August 1, 2017 to August 1, 2019, while implementing a study into a state energy plan.

A copy of the amendment isn’t available online yet, but a SAB reader in the Legislature sent me a photo of it. The amendment passed in the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 4-3 vote, and also earned the committee’s “do pass” recommendation.

If the wind industry was something less than enthusiastic about Unruh’s original bill they have to downright hate Cook’s amendment. “It’s brought in a boatload of lobbyists,” one waggish observer of the legislature told me. “Great economic development.”

I’m not a fan of the amendment either.

What will serve North Dakotans best in the long run is an end to making energy decisions based on politics. Unruh’s original bill moved us in that direction rather elegantly, I think, by not acting against wind directly so much as just removing the wind industry’s political advantages and forcing them to compete on a more level playing field.

Cook’s amendment, on the other hand, is a blunt instrument pausing all development while the issue is studied.

I don’t see this bill on the Senate’s calendar yet for floor debate, but it will have to come up before the crossover deadline this week.

On a related note, HB1372 which would have sought to offset the federal wind power production tax credit, which is a massive subsidy for wind power generation, with a state tax failed to get a single vote on the House floor earlier this month.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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