North Dakota’s Public Service Commission has shot down a wind farm siting permit requested by NextEra Energy for a project in Burke County (north of Powers Lake).
One commissioner described the decision as “historic.” The most important line from my colleague John Hageman’s report on the decision is this (emphasis mine):
Public Service Commissioners unanimously rejected NextEra Energy’s application for siting permit, the first time they remembered doing so for an energy facility given that regulators and project developers typically work out issues before a final decision is made.
This was a very large project, covering some 23,000 acres with 76 wind turbines, and both the North Dakota Game & Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were critical of it for its potential impacts on wildlife.
Birds, in particular.
The three-member, all-Republican commission rejected the permit for the project because they didn’t feel NextEra had demonstrated that they’d do enough to mitigate wildlife impacts.
I’m certain this was the right decision, based on the law, but what’s significant for the purposes of this post is the passage I bolded above.
The wind industry in our region has become so enamored with their most-favored political status that they seem to think they’ll get their way whatever the circumstances.
The build out of wind capacity has been booming in North Dakota. From 2016 through the first quarter of 2019 state has a 47 percent increase in wind power capacity, with a lot of that growth driven by a land rush to capture expiring federal subsidies. The federal government provides a tax credit for every kilowatt hour of wind energy produced. I’m talking about the government writing a check to the industry for producing its product.
This subsidy is so massive that at times wind companies can literally pay utilities to take their energy. But it’s expiring soon. The industry has until December 31, 2019, to commence construction on projects to be eligible for these tax credits (which last ten years per project).
Massive industrial growth spurred by government subsidies never ends badly, right? Do we all feel good about a huge expansion of wind capacity so that energy companies can capture federal subsidies?
This totally isn’t a moral hazard, right? But I digress.
Back to the matter at hand, I don’t think NextEra believed the PSC would say no to them. Because, again, the wind industry has enjoyed favored political status for decades now.
But they didn’t get to bulldoze the PSC. What’s more, the public seems to be growing weary of wind energy projects too. Earlier this year a wind project planned for Burleigh and Emmonds counties ran into a brick wall of public opposition.
I suspect there are some stormy seas ahead for the industry, as subsidies expire and growth slows.