By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau
EPA THREAT: Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann, a Republican, says he’s “disturbed” at North Dakota’s growing dependence on wind energy. “We’re down to almost zero alternatives,” he says.
BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Public Service Commission voted unanimously to approve a new wind power project in the state, but one member says North Dakota is becoming so dependent on wind power.
The Sunflower Wind project — 59 new turbines to be built in Morton and Stark counties south of Hebron — will provide 80 megawatts of power when completed.
But even as he voted to approve the project, Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann, a Republican, was critical of what he says as the state’s growing dependence on wind energy.
He said the state essentially has no choice in the matter thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration.
“The North Dakota Legislature’s objective of 10 percent has long since been surpassed,” Christmann said during the hearing. “It disturbs me that we are becoming this reliant on wind. However, thanks to the (Obama) administration and specifically the EPA, we’re down to almost zero alternatives.”
The emission limits proposed by the EPA for power generation in North Dakota allow no more than 1,817 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour by the year 2020, and 1,783 pounds per megawatt hour by 2030. Those limits were released for public comment earlier this year.
Coal-fired power plants average about 2,250 pounds per megawatt-hour. The EPA last year began taking public comment on a proposed cap of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity generated for new power plants.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration, said 79 percent of the power produced in North Dakota in 2013 came from coal, while 16 percent came from wind.
WIND ENERGY: Wind-generated power production has soared in North Dakota in recent years, going from less than 10,000 megawatt hours in 2008 to over 1.2 million megawatt hours in 2012.
The growth in wind-energy production in the state has been almost exponential.
In 2000, the state had no wind-powered electrical generation. In 2009 wind power took off, jumping to more than 372,000 megawatt hours of electrical generation from 6,881 in 2008. By 2012 wind energy production in North Dakota increased 237 percent, to more than 1.2 million megawatt hours.
But not everyone sees that growing dependence on wind energy as a positive.
Christmann previously has voiced concerns over the price and dependability of wind energy.
In June, shortly after the Obama administration announced new emissions regulations for existing power plants, Christmann said that it would create price turmoil in the energy markets while making the energy grid less reliable.
“As we shut down a select few coal plants or idle them back in order to meet the Democrats’ mandate, two things will have to happen,” he told Watchdog.org. “The coal plants will have to charge more for the power they do produce since their sales will be less but their fixed costs remain unchanged, and we will have to decorate our landscape with more wind turbines to replace that lost generation. Because the wind is not dependable, we will also need to add more natural gas peaking generation to run when the wind is not blowing.”
PSC Commissioner Brian Kalk , who also voted in favor of the Sunflower project, agreed with Christmann in June on the larger issue of the EPA’s regulations and its impact on energy price and reliability.
“My concern, as always, is how these and other regulations impact system reliability and what impact will they have on both energy costs to consumers and businesses and on economic growth in North Dakota,” Kalk told Watchdog. “Any time you impose cumbersome regulations on an industry, it slows growth. With our economy growing, we need more, not less, energy.”