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Patrick Springer, Published January 13 2013

ND budget proposal includes $5M for renewable energy support

FARGO – Renewable energy advocates are applauding state budget proposals to provide a projected $5.48 million to support renewable energy and energy conservation initiatives.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s recommendations for North Dakota’s 2013-2015 budget call for setting aside portions of the Resource Trust Fund projected to total $2.74 million for renewable energy and $2.74 million for energy efficiency upgrades to public buildings.

If approved by lawmakers, the funds would be the first to be earmarked for renewable energy or energy conservation for the Resource Trust Fund, said Patrice Lahlum, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy.

Similarly, the state’s EmPower North Dakota Commission has a proposal to set aside up to $3 million per biennium for renewable energy development, Lahlum said.

“I think there’s a recognition that we need to make an investment in renewable energy,” she said.

A new study for the alliance, meanwhile, determined that renewable energy, including wind power and ethanol, contribute $1.2 billion a year to the North Dakota economy.

With so much attention focused on the dramatic boom in North Dakota’s Oil Patch, wind energy, ethanol and other biofuels have not been in the limelight in recent years.

“Oil development isn’t the only story to tell in this state,” Lahlum said. “Renewables are an important part of our energy mix in North Dakota and sometimes I think they get overshadowed.”

The study was conducted by North Dakota State University researchers and was paid for by the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s energy program. Highlights include:

• Wind farms in North Dakota were capable of generating more than 1,400 megawatts of electricity in 2011, and grew to more than 1,600 megawatts last year. Those figures compare to 65.8 megawatts of total capacity in 2003.

(Because the wind blows intermittently, a wind farm’s operating capacity is usually 30 percent to 40 percent of rated total generating capacity.)

• Wind farms in North Dakota generated 5.3 billion kilowatt hours in 2011.

However, wind development in the state has suffered setbacks because of the ongoing uncertainty involving tax credits.

Congress recently extended the credits for a year, but DMI closed its plant in West Fargo, which manufactured towers for wind turbines, and LM Windpower in Grand Forks laid off workers because of the drop in demand from the tax credit’s uncertainty.

• Ethanol production has increased 300 percent over the past decade, and reached 377.5 million gallons in 2011. That compares to production of 88.5 million gallons in 2006.

Ethanol production soared between 2006 and 2008, when four large plants were built, but no more have been built since in North Dakota.

• Expenditures for renewable energy production in 2011 totaled $326 million. Ethanol plants comprised the largest share, with $208.5 million, followed by manufacturing, $86.4 million and wind energy centers, $31.1 million.

Ethanol plants provide more than 200 jobs directly.

Also, ethanol plants buy significant quantities of corn, natural gas, electricity and coal. Transportation costs for ethanol plants totaled $49 million in 2011.

“People don’t realize the widespread impact to a lot of communities,” Lahlum said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522