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Editorial - Cramer takes proactive action

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer has the right idea when he said this week it is time to bring coal and wind-power industries together to talk about development in the state.

FPL Energy of Juno Beach, Fla., is being joined by Minnesota Power of Duluth, Minn., in pursuing wind farms in Oliver and Mercer counties. FLP Energy already has filed papers with the state PSC for its 250 square-mile proposal in the two counties. Minnesota Power is expressing a desire for its own wind farm in Oliver County.

The primary problem arises, however, if these wind projects with their expensive turbines are targeted for land that holds coal to be mined.

"We need to see all of these forms of energy grow together and coexist, as opposed to one perhaps to the detriment of another," Kramer said Wednesday in a telephone interview with the Press. "I don't want to imply that is necessarily happening, but the potential is definitely there."

When talking about FPL's letter of intent for its wind farm, the scope of the project produces obvious potential conflict to Cramer because of the different interests involved, he said. He also points out mineral and surface rights ownership are severed in 90 percent of land transactions, with minerals typically having precedence over surface rights.

"My only point is let's stop, let's get all of the parties together and have good orderly development," Cramer said.

While the PSC is charged in its siting authority to minimize adverse impacts to people, cultural and natural resources, Cramer said another duty is orderly development of the state's energy resources while establishing integrity and reliability of the system.

"The good news is I've talked to the coal companies, I've talked with FPL, everybody is anxious to do it and sit down," Cramer said.

If wind farms could be developed on reclaimed mining acres, that would be great, he said. At the same time, there is coal that isn't anticipated to be mined for upward of 60 years.

"Perhaps if there is a 30-year or 40-year life cycle of a wind turbine, you could still utilize that surface and have the tower removed and all of that," Cramer said. "But that gets to be a little more challenging."

Minnesota Power is looking to develop its Oliver County project to help meet a Minnesota requirement that 25 percent of energy must come from renewable resources by 2025. Minnesota Power's Web site states it provides electricity in a 26,000 square-mile electric service territory located in northeastern Minnesota. Minnesota Power supplies retail electric service to 141,000 retail customers and wholesale electric service to 16 municipalities.

FPL Energy, meanwhile, touts itself as the United State's leader in wind generation. It already has several projects in the works in the state and is exploring others, including one in Stark County.

North Dakota has more wind-energy capacity than we can use as a state and we have neighbors who want it, Cramer said.

"We want to be able to provide it for them. Our job at the PSC isn't just to champion development, but it's to oversee it so it's done properly," he said.

Cramer is acting proactively by bringing the various players within our state's energy industry together early to help avoid potential conflicts down the road. Hopefully, all parties to the discussion can keep the big picture in focus when sharing individual perspectives so viable solutions can be developed.

Again, we applaud Cramer for the timely manner in which he is addressing this important matter that has serious impacts not only Oliver and Mercer counties, but all of North Dakota.