Lawmaker proposes changes to North Dakota wind energy tax revenue distribution
BISMARCK—A North Dakota legislator is proposing to change how wind energy tax revenue is distributed, sending a portion of the money to state coffers rather than directing it all to local counties.
Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, presented his idea Tuesday, Aug. 14, to the Legislature's interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee.
Brandenburg, a strong advocate for wind energy, said his goal is to address criticism that the wind industry doesn't contribute to the state budget the same way that coal and oil do.
Currently, all of North Dakota's wind energy tax revenue stays with counties, while the state shares in tax revenue from coal and oil.
"You heard last session from a number of legislators that thought that wind was getting a free ride," Brandenburg said.
A bill he plans to introduce when the legislative session starts in January would keep two-thirds of wind energy tax revenue in the counties that produce the energy and send one-third to the state general fund.
"It's going to take the fight away that we're not putting any money into the state," Brandenburg said.
The proposal would not change the amount of taxes the wind industry pays, just how it is distributed. In addition, it would only apply to future wind farms and not change how tax revenue is distributed from existing wind farms.
The wind industry paid $8.7 million in taxes in North Dakota in 2017, according to the state tax department. That figure represents taxes that were charged in lieu of property tax and does not include sales tax for the construction of wind towers.
Newer wind farms are taxed at a higher rate than older wind farms. Morton County was the largest recipient of wind tax revenue last year with more than $2 million, according to the report from Legislative Council, the research arm of the Legislature.
Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said he hopes legislators consider tax revenue from all forms of power generation, including natural gas, coal and wind, and address the tax issue as a package.
Coal-fired electrical generating facilities paid $25.7 million in coal conversion taxes last year, with 85 percent deposited in the state's general fund and 15 percent to counties, according to the Tax Department.
Natural gas facilities producing electricity paid nearly $1.3 million in taxes last year, with all revenue distributed to local governments, the agency said.
Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said legislators dealt with how much wind should be taxed during the 2015 session. He said the bill draft is a good next step.
"I think it's a good discussion to have now—who are the beneficiaries of the tax dollars," Rauschenberger said.
House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, also said he thinks the proposal is a good starting point.
"We need to dig into it. We want to make sure that it's equitable," Mock said.