Murphy’s Law #57

June 13, 2018

This is an update on the activities of the Interim Natural Resources committee whose activities, so as not to rehash, were last explained in blog #53. This meeting was mostly about the collaboration (and lack of) between the wind power industry, the Public Service Commission (PSC), the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and agricultural interests. Also testifying on wind siting issues were the Department of Trust Lands, the Utility Shareholders of North Daota and Rural Electric Cooperatives.
With the PSC in charge of siting wind turbine fields and NextEra, which is the world’s largest renewable energy company, trying to establish a field in southern North Dakota, there came about a problem trying to mitigate indirect impacts. Indirect impacts are by definition somewhat subjective in nature and difficult to monetize. North Dakota Game and Fish (NDGF)was asked to get involved by the PSC to provide them and NextEra with an amount of acreage that needed to be mitigated for the project to move forward.
To my understanding, it boiled down to NextEra having about 2 weeks to make the whole deal viable and an eventual dollar amount was agreed upon. This money from the power company was then transferred from NDGF to a vendor that had a mitigation program ready to roll. In this case, it was Ducks Unlimited who at that time had the only mitigation program approved in North Dakota by the Army Corps of Engineers. The choice of this provider riled some in the agricultural community, although DU testified that they used the money to pay farmers and ranchers for conservation projects.
NextEra testified that they felt the collaboration between them, the PSC and NDGF had broken down when NDGF wrote out guidelines for mitigation of indirect impacts for future wind farm development. Game and Fish begged to differ, saying that they had tried to write the guidelines based on collaborative discussions and that, even on this day of testifying (June 6), the guidelines were still in flux with input being accepted. Some legislators wondered why NDGF was taking punches when they had done what the PSC asked them to do. Another legislator wondered why DU had not invited agricultural interests to the table which DU answered by saying that they had been invited to do a job for the PSC and NDGF and had no call to suspect they needed to reach out to any other third parties. NDGF was also asked why agriculture had not been invited to the table and NDGF responded as well that the PSC and the wind industry had invited them for their biological expertise – it was their party and not the place of NDGF to invite anyone to a party that was not theirs to begin with.
At any rate, the NDGF guidelines are not rules or law in any way, but voluntary only. It is the PSC that decides what weight to assign to the guidelines when siting. Power companies and utilities are in effect saying, “Yeah, they might be voluntary guidelines, but if the PSC decides to include compliance to NDGF guidelines in their siting permit, they might as well be law.”
So here we sit and the committee decided that because this was supposed to be their last meeting and even one more meeting would not settle the issue, they adjourned for the rest of the interim. It was mentioned that this issue may well have to be taken up in the next legislative session which begins in January. I will conclude by saying that many portions of this meeting were tense and even emotional for some testifying. This account is by nature very brief but I have done my best to be a dispassionate observer and relate things as I saw and heard to the best of my ability.