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North Dakota Senate declines wind power moratorium, passes study

BISMARCK—A proposal that would have created a two-year moratorium on new wind energy development in North Dakota was stripped from legislation that ultimately passed the Senate as a study of the state's energy plan Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Senate Bill 2314, as passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday, would have prevented the Public Service Commission from approving a wind farm application submitted in the two years starting Aug. 1 unless the commission determined that added generation was needed for the state's consumers.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, who introduced the controversial amendment, asked for the provision to be separated from a section requesting a legislative study of the "long-term energy plan for the state." He asked his colleagues to defeat the division of the bill that included the moratorium language, which they did on a voice vote Wednesday.

"We had the discussion we needed to have," Cook said after the vote.

Cook expressed concern that there is a direct relationship between the increase in wind energy production and the decline in coal production, pointing to the planned closure of the Stanton Station power plant in Mercer County. Great River Energy said it was ending operations there because of low energy prices in the region.

"We should all be concerned about reliability," Cook said on the Senate floor. "Our coal industry is committed to going to carbonless, but it's going to cost a lot of money. ... We could have clean, sustainable electricity with coal and maybe natural gas, but we don't have a plan yet today on how we're going to get there."

North Dakota will add about 1,000 megawatts of wind power in the 10 month period between May 2016 and March of this year, Randy Christmann, the PSC chairman previously told Forum News Service. The state added about 2,000 megawatts over the 10 years prior to that, he said.

The study ultimately passed the Senate by a 42-4 margin.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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