ND's business-friendly policies touted at wind farm dedication
NEW SALEM -- A persistent rain Thursday in west-central North Dakota moved the Bison Wind Energy Center dedication from the site of the project to a more urban environment, but that hardly seemed to dampen the spirits of attendees to the ceremony and luncheon marking the completion of the massive project.
With some of the state's most prominent political leaders looking on and close to 200 people packing the New Salem City Auditorium, top executives from Minnesota Power/ALLETE touted their $500 million baby -- a 50,000-acre network of over 100 wind turbines in Oliver and Morton counties.
"We've been here and we intend to stay here for the long haul," said ALLETE CEO Al Hodnik. "North Dakota is both energy rich, but, most importantly, policy-friendly. I can't say that about Minnesota, the state I grew up in, but North Dakota is good for business and good for our company."
Hodnik said ALLETE worked with "about 500" landowners to secure access to the parcels used for the wind energy center, which will produce nearly 300 megawatts of power for ALLETE customers in Minnesota, according to the corporation's numbers.
After launching the project in 2009, Thursday marked the culmination of a three-part construction phase, which included the creation of more than 40 miles of new roads throughout the site. At its current scope, the Bison center will produce enough energy to power 100,000 homes annually.
Though her colleague in the U.S. Senate, Republican Sen. John Hoeven, was not able to attend because of a scheduling conflict, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the Bison project was a big part of North Dakota's comprehensive plan for energy production.
"Because of that can-do attitude and where we come from, we know this celebration is for all of you," Heitkamp said. "All of the community members and the farmers and the ranchers who have watched this project and maybe suffered through a little extra traffic and hassle and who have thought 'what a great thing this is for our community."'
Made by Siemens, each turbine stands about as tall as a 20-story building and features 161-foot long fiberglass blades that can reach speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. Hodnik said ALLETE's Duluth, Minn.-based subsidiary Minnesota Power is also looking into additional energy investments in the Peace Garden State, though some of that could hinge on the fate of the renewable energy production tax credits, which were recently extended.
"The jobs that come from these projects are living-wage jobs, not just in lip service, but in real terms," Hodnik said. "The tax base generated in North Dakota is growing not only from shale gas and oil, but from long-standing industries like mining and wind. Like Sen. Hoeven has said, the whole idea in North Dakota is to enable all the energy forms, not pick winners and losers. Minnesota hasn't figured that out yet and still likes to pick winners and losers."
In Minnesota, a government mandate is in place that calls for 25 percent of the state's power to come from renewable energy sources by 2025. Public Service Commission Chairman Brian Kalk -- who was also a featured speaker at Thursday's event -- has said about 18 percent of North Dakota's power currently comes from renewable sources.
"Energy is the lifeblood of a growing economy," said North Dakota Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley. "We're blessed with an endless God-given supply of wind and we don't always view that as a blessing here in North Dakota, but it has a purpose. You can have public policy that does work for everyone -- substantial private sector investment with landowners, stakeholders and political subdivisions that come together to be part of the solution in a regulatory and business climate that is pro-growth."
Power generated from the Bison center will continue to make its way to Minnesota via a 465-mile current transmission line, which Minnesota Power purchased in 2009.
Adding one final shot directed at the Gopher State, North Dakota Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson -- who said he is an ALLETE shareholder -- also touted his state's business-friendly climate, referencing a controversial billboard that went up recently along Interstate 94 in Moorhead, Minn.
"North Dakota is the kind of place where you can say we're open for business," Peterson said. "If you've seen a sign recently coming this direction (from Minnesota), we truly mean what we say. We want business and we want you to expand here."
Representatives for Republicans Hoeven and U.S. Congressman Kevin Cramer attended the event with both reading letters from the two politicians trumpeting what both referred to as the positive effects of the Bison project.