A state House committee rejected what one lawmaker called a “glorified moratorium” on new wind energy projects Friday, but instead proposed tweaks to how the state’s utility regulator evaluates projects.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, proposed an amendment to a bill seeking a study of the state’s long-term energy plan that would have prevented the Public Service Commission from approving a new application for a wind farm submitted after Dec. 31 unless it determines that the energy is needed or won’t harm system reliability. The Senate considered a similar provision earlier this session but rejected it.

The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee instead gave a “do pass” recommendation to a bill directing the PSC to consider the need for a proposed energy facility, along with the energy study. Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, called the original proposal a “glorified moratorium” but still had problems with the new bill.

“It’s not a moratorium but you put it in the hands of three people,” he said.

Carlson said he’s not against wind energy, but raised concerns about grid reliability. He also disputed the characterization that his proposal was a moratorium on wind.

“Since I’ve been a kid, you flipped the light switch on, the power’s always been there,” Carlson said.

Randy Christmann, chairman of the Public Service Commission, said North Dakota has added 1,000 megawatts of wind power over the past 10 months. Meanwhile, Great River Energy has recently shuttered a coal-fired power plant, he noted.

“I fear we are going to choke out more of our baseload power,” said Christmann, who pointed to federal subsidies for intermittent power sources. Brandenburg, meanwhile, provided a list of federal tax incentives for coal.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak questioned how the commission would determine “need,” given that some projects are built for customers outside of the state.

Some lawmakers said the committee was taking the wrong approach.

“I want to see us support and make coal more competitive,” said House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks. “But I certainly wouldn’t want to do it at the expense of other energy industries.”

House lawmakers could vote on Senate Bill 2314 as soon as Monday.

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