The wind has shifted, so to speak, when it comes to wind farms in North Dakota. The days are gone when seeing wind turbines in the state was a novelty and they seemed almost majestic on the open prairie.
Traveling in any direction from Bismarck you will encounter wind farms. They have provided landowners with another source of income and added to local tax revenue. Despite their benefits, they are no longer an easy sell in communities.
The EmPower Commission a decade ago urged the state to increase wind generation to 5,000 megawatts by 2020. It’s unlikely North Dakota will reach the goal since there’s 3,150 megawatts of wind power in service at the moment and hitting the target in six months isn’t realistic.
Even if the state misses the goal, the Tribune editorial board believes wind power remains an important player in the state’s energy industry. The 5,000-megawatt goal was a recommendation based on circumstances a decade ago. Not everyone remains as enamored with wind power as in 2009.
Questions have been raised about reliability, what happens when the wind doesn’t blow, and the impact of turbines on wildlife. When wind farms are sited, air traffic also has to be considered. Some oppose wind farms because they feel they mar the landscape and are too noisy.
In 2017, legislators considered a moratorium on new wind energy development because supporters of the effort feared the loss of coal-fired power generation. The proposal was dropped.
Recently, the Burleigh County Commission rejected a wind farm because of local opposition. It was a bitter disappointment for some landowners who had worked on the project for years in hopes of additional income.
Last week, the state Public Service Commission rejected a siting permit for NextEra Energy Resources in Burke County. The 23,000-acre farm would have contained up to 76 turbines. The PSC turned down the permit after state and federal wildlife officials warned of the negative impact on wildlife and wetlands.
The PSC decision was unusual in that the three commissioners can’t recall rejecting an application for any energy facility during their tenure. Bob Harms, policy director for North Dakotans for Comprehensive Energy Solutions, doesn’t think the decision will hurt the wind industry long term. He noted it was one project among many in different stages of development.
The two rejected proposals demonstrate the need of companies to be diligent in planning wind projects. They must do more than gauge the interest of landowners in having turbines — they need to check the mood of the community. The Burleigh decision shows the interpretation of landowner rights can differ.
Concerns about wildlife and the environment can’t be ignored.
It would be a mistake if North Dakota allowed itself to gain a reputation as unfriendly to wind power. It’s an energy source that provides some balance to oil and coal. Those industries face some of the same challenges as wind companies but are more established. Also, it’s easier for North Dakotans to see the revenue benefits of oil and coal.
The state ranks 10th in the country for installed wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said wind accounted for about one-fourth of the state’s net electricity generation in 2018.
Wind power remains too important to North Dakota to ignore. It just needs to be done right.