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North Dakota halts bill that would have examined state's long-term energy goals

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North Dakota halts bill that would have examined state's long-term energy goals

North Dakota lawmakers have killed legislation that would have required an examination of the state's long term energy goals. SB 2314, which called for a legislative study of energy resources in the state to help craft a long-term energy plan, was voted down 13-77 by the state House of Representatives on April 3.

The original bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Jessica Unruh on Jan. 23, included a measure that effectively would have banned most new wind energy projects in North Dakota for a two year period by preventing the Public Service Commission from approving projects. However, a subsequent amendment to the bill approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would have given the PSC permission to green light projects if the agency determined that more generation was needed for consumers in the state.

The legislation was divided into two sections during the Feb. 22 floor debate: one on the potential wind moratorium, which the Senate voted against, and the other requiring the legislative study, which was passed by the Senate and then advanced to the state House. Republican state Sen. Dwight Cook spoke on the Senate floor in support of the study, saying it could define the future landscape of the state's energy production.

The updated bill that was voted down April 3 ordered the energy development and transmission committee to analyze the sustainability and reliability of various energy sources in the state, including coal, wind, solar, natural gas and hydropower, and also to assess how the current tax environment is affecting energy availability from those energy sources, as well as the distribution of revenue from those sources. The study further required the consideration of the needs of the state, political subdivisions and industry when assessing various energy sources, according to the bill. Findings and recommendations based on the study's results and legislation necessary to implement those recommendations then would have been presented at a general assembly session.

Annual installed capacity in the U.S. wind industry reached 8,203 MW in 2016, with Texas, the Midwest and Plains' states accounting for nearly 90% of that capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That same year, 603 MW of new wind capacity was installed in North Dakota.

Some state lawmakers voiced concerns regarding the "erosion of North Dakota's tax base and economic impact of coal power at the expense of federally-subsidized wind generation" in a recent letter to U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The letter referenced Hoeven's support for an "all of the above energy policy," which included his work to extend the federal wind production tax credit for five years "with a phase down to a market based rate." Hoeven said the wind tax credit "is a good example of federal policies that provide the certainty our energy industry — both renewable and traditional — need to succeed."

In their letter to Hoeven, the lawmakers maintained that "[t]here are NO TRADITIONAL electric generation sources being developed or even planned in North Dakota." They partially blamed the PTC, criticizing the impact it has had on the state's coal industry.