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ND legislators raise concerns to Hoeven over wind subsidies

Wind turbines dot the landscape around Courtenay, part of the Courtenay Wind Farm under construction by Xcel Energy. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota House members killed a study of the state's long-term energy plan on Monday, April 3, included in a bill that prompted debate over wind energy's impact on the state's coal industry.

Meanwhile, state legislative leaders are calling on U.S. Sen. John Hoeven to repeal federal subsidies for wind energy they say are negatively affecting coal.

Most of the discussion on the state House floor Monday focused on amendments to Senate Bill 2314, which would have required the Public Service Commission to consider the need for a proposed energy facility, a factor not currently in the agency's criteria.

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, said while the amendment did not specifically call for a moratorium on wind development, a proposal defeated earlier this year in the Senate, she thought it had a similar goal.

"This version, while worded more discreetly, has the same intent, to hamstring new energy development with the intent of protecting the coal industry, specifically intending to prevent additional wind development in the state," Roers Jones said.

Other opponents said the amendments would prompt wind farms to be developed in neighboring South Dakota or Minnesota, causing North Dakota to lose out on property tax revenue, jobs and payments to landowners.

"Why do we want to hang a closed for business sign on North Dakota?" asked Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, who supported the amendments, said the proposal was not intended to be a "war on wind," but to require the PSC to determine whether energy is needed in the grid when considering proposals.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who also urged support of the amendments, said he doesn't see the proposal as threatening an industry, but as protecting the reliability and affordability of electricity for consumers.

House members defeated the amendments in a 27-62 vote.

Without the amendments, the bill approved by the Senate called for Legislative Management to consider studying the long-term energy plan for the state.

Carlson said the study "had no teeth" and he wouldn't support it. He urged legislators to protect the reliability of electricity in future sessions and not throw coal "under the bus."

"Let's make sure that as you promote alternatives, that you never forget that the key to this is the baseload that goes with it to supplant those," Carlson said.

The full bill failed in a 13-77 vote.

Carlson and other state Republican leaders also directed concerns to Hoeven, R-N.D., in a recent letter prompted by a news release in which Hoeven welcomed Xcel Energy's announcement of seven wind farms planned in the Upper Midwest, including North Dakota.

The news release noted that Hoeven worked to support a compromise to extend the wind production tax credit (PTC) for five years with a phase down to a market-based rate.

The letter, signed by House and Senate majority leaders and four legislative committee leaders, called on Hoeven to help repeal the wind tax credits immediately.

"We are concerned about the federal government subsidizing out-of-state companies to use North Dakota as a staging area to mine federal taxpayer funds," the letter states.

The legislators requested a meeting with Hoeven to discuss the role of federal and state policies in protecting affordable, reliable and clean electricity in North Dakota.

Hoeven said he called Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, because his was the first name on the letter, and offered to meet with the legislators.

In an interview Monday, Hoeven said the wind energy tax credits are phasing out and will expire in 2019. Hoeven said he's also working to support the coal industry by reducing the regulatory burden created under the Obama administration and supporting research and development projects.

"I think we're making real progress in trying to help the lignite-fired industry," Hoeven said.

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