ND bill supports more local control regarding wind farm projects

Opponents say the legislation is problematic

1694764+wind farm.JPG
A wind farm near Edgeley, North Dakota.
Forum file photo

BISMARCK — A coal-supporting North Dakota lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at giving counties and local residents more information and say about planned wind projects before they proceed, a move the state agriculture commissioner says could have broad negative impacts.

Rep. Anna Novak, R-Hazen, shared her support for House Bill 1512 on Thursday, Feb. 2, before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, saying North Dakota needs adequate wind permitting laws to protect residents. Novak is co-founder of the Facebook group Faces of North Dakota Coal, which advocates for Coal Country.

Anna Novak.jpg
North Dakota Rep. Anna Novak, R-Hazen

“This bill is not meant to shut down the wind industry in North Dakota. It might force the wind companies to work a little bit harder. But I believe that these are both common-sense changes in our law,” Novak said.

Required hearing

The first section of the bill would require a wind developer to host a hearing before seeking leases from landowners. This would give people living in the area of a planned wind project a chance to voice their favor or opposition before leases are signed, according to Novak.

“Knowing about a project before any wind leases are secured is very important for wind projects in particular because they have such a large footprint in terms of acres or miles, but also from the base of the turbine to the tips of the blades,” she said.


Novak said she hears that wind companies first approach people who don’t live on the property and may even live outside of the state.

“They likely inherited the land or rent it out to a local farmer. In visiting with people that signed wind leases on their property, I’ve heard so many times that the wind companies essentially target the nonresident landowners to secure leases first,” she said. “… It seems to me that they’re the low-hanging fruit because those people don’t live there and don’t have to deal with any of the negative impacts of having a wind farm on their property.”

The North Dakota Public Service Commission permits energy projects such as wind farms, a process that includes hearings, though those hearings might not come before the leasing process commences.

Exclusion zones

The bill also would enable counties to create "exclusion zones" for a proposed energy project -- areas where a company couldn't build.

"Examples may include areas of significant wildlife habitat, hunting and recreation hot spots, scenic areas attractive to tourists, and perhaps most significantly, property overlying valuable lignite coal reserves or other mineral resources subject to future exploitation," said written testimony from Geoff Simon, executive director of the Western Dakota Energy Association, which supports the bill.

Levi Andrist, lobbyist for the wind industry in North Dakota, said county zoning officials already have the authority to create zoning districts for certain activities and already have the right to approve or deny projects. He added that the bill "doesn't provide any criteria for which an exclusion zone could be established."

The bill "compromises property rights of landowners who want to lease the land for wind projects," Andrist said.

"This is not required for pipelines, it's not required for electric transmission, it's not required for oil and gas or lignite extraction, it's not required for large commercial or industrial facilities and we don't believe it should be required for wind leases," he said. "If a landowner wants to lease property, they should be free to do so without government interference."


North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said that too much local control leads to people “responding to emotionally charged issues” when they might not have enough experience or expertise when putting restrictions in place.

“... There’s a lot of projects throughout North Dakota that ag facilities and value-added ag facilities are tied into. And that’s where it really concerns me. And we already have too many issues with zoning,” Goehring said.

Doug Goehring.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring

He added that it would expand the "not in my backyard" sentiment.

Carlee McLeod, president of the Utility Shareholders of North Dakota, in written testimony said the bill has several issues. Local counties already have authority in their zoning laws, she said.

“It interjects county jurisdiction into state jurisdiction. If a county wants to create additional requirements for zoning, it has that ability. If a refinement is desired, that refinement should occur in the chapter of code defining county powers or at the county level,” McLeod said, adding there’s “significant constitutional issues with landowner restrictions” in other sections of the bill.

The second part of the bill would help protect mineral ownership. State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms testified in support of this section, saying mineral owners should be allowed to voice their opposition to a wind project in regards to the value of minerals on their land.

“You would think after 128 years, we would know everything there was to know about minerals in North Dakota. But we learn something new every year. So critical minerals and rare earth elements were not on anybody’s radar even five years ago. But we’re discovering that they’re a very important potential mineral resources in North Dakota,” Helms said.

What To Read Next
Get Local