Murphy’s Law #47

December 15, 2017

This Wednesday I attended the Natural Resources committee meeting – their second of this interim session. In #43 of this blog, I laid out the goals of the committee and what they did their first meeting. Wind occupied the entire morning, with presentations from Public Service Commission Commissioner Fedorchak explaining their siting and decommissioning process. She also explained how far wind energy production has come in the last 10 years or so. While the first wind farm began development in 2003 in the south central part of North Dakota, according to the Commissioner, ND went to 15.1 billion kilowatts sold in 2017 from zero in 2007. She also stated that about 15 percent of energy was renewable at this point. Some farmers were curious about decommissioning procedures and she assured us that they have been insistent on good practices in that regard, offering as one example that they recently changed the removal/reclamation standard from 3 feet below surface level to 4 feet.
Then the largest energy provider in the country, NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, flew in three of their executives to explain the care they take with wind energy siting and their policies and programs where impact on the environment and people are concerned. They also explained how competitive a business it is and their marketing procedures. After that came ND Farmers Union to explain how they are in favor of wind energy as the income can help keep people on the farm but also how they need to listen and heed the input from many members across the wind energy approval/disapproval spectrum. ND Farm Bureau explained that it can be difficult at times to balance wind energy benefits for their producers with the private land rights important for their organization to uphold. As the committee was behind schedule more than an hour when the farm groups came up, they kept their testimony short, leaving their entire printed text with the committee members.
Then came the Association of Counties to ask the committee to keep taxes coming to the local governments should the committee look at changing the tax structure in any way. One of the reasons for this study on wind is become some would like to see wind pay a greater share of taxes. NextEra had testified that between 2013-2017, they paid over $4 million in property taxes in ND. There was discussion about light mitigation technologies (ongoing, expensive and mostly not yet determined) and how the noise produced by the towers was diminishing with improving technology.
After lunch was a discussion by the State Geologist, Ed Murphy (I call him Cousin Eddy but he is not), about the issue brought up in the first meeting about high-level radioactive waste disposal sites. Their proposed legislation would attempt to ensure that ND gets to have an opinion about where, how and if the Federal Government would choose to put some nuclear waste in ND. We produce none of that waste but Pierce County had some suspicions about a bore hole being designed for that purpose so now the state is doing what they can to influence such an operation. The committee understands that, ultimately, being a part of this great country does mean that the national government does hold sway in this matter, but states always do what they can to influence what the Feds might want. The committee also reviewed a bill draft meant to eliminate or smooth over a drafting error or poorly timed bill passage that muddied the waters of energy facility siting. They figured it out.