Renewables, Wind

North Dakota conference focuses on state’s huge wind resources

Jan. 23, 2001—North Dakota has perhaps the greatest wind energy potential of any state in the U.S. Speaker after speaker at the January 10 “Wind Energy and Rural Development in North Dakota” conference alluded to the state being the “Saudi Arabia of Wind.”

Though the wind resource has always been available, more and more people in the state would like to turn it into a major export: commodity electricity.

Over 500 people attended the second annual wind energy conference hosted by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) in Bismarck (250 more than were pre-registered!). Keynote speaker AWEA president Dean Gosselin of FPL Energy set the stage for North Dakota’s role in the burgeoning growth of wind power in the United States.

With such an enormous wind energy resource in North Dakota and the need for new electrical power nationwide, North Dakota could provide a significant portion of wind power growth over the next few years, he explained.

Dorgan declared that wind energy is the “cheapest source of renewable power in the world.” “Some people say wind turbines don’t look very good,” he added. “But here in North Dakota [with so few people in the windy areas], that won’t be a problem. We are the last state in native forestland — we’re last in trees. Instead, we can put up some wind turbines. It makes good sense!” Furthermore, use of the state’s wind power will bring tremendous economic development, he added.

The conference featured another half dozen AWEA members who provided their assessment of wind development potential in the state. Jeff Ghilardi, Enron Wind Corp., explained that the continuing reduction in the cost of the wind technology is due to economies of scale, reduced component costs, and increased conversion efficiencies. Scott Piscitello, Renewable Energy Systems U.S.A, added that wind businesses would draw on their wealth of experience in efficient wind development to help drive the cost of energy lower.

In addition to Dorgan, U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad (D), newly elected Gov. John Hoeven ®, and North Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Susan Wefald addressed the conference. Dorgan and Conrad also met privately with wind industry members to solicit suggestions on priority policy positions for the federal government to assist wind development in the state. The overwhelming priority, they were told, is to extend the wind energy production tax credit (PTC), ideally for five years.

The longer time period will provide some stability to wind development in the United States, as opposed to the “boom and bust” development that has characterized the wind industry over the past 20 years. Immediately following that top priority, industry representatives said, transmission capacity from the state for wind-generated electricity must be increased.

Rich Voss of the Lignite Energy Council, who also spoke at the wind conference, echoed the need for transmission capacity. The Council’s “Vision 21” project aims to provide the groundwork to expand North Dakota’s production and export of electricity from coal-fired power plants to major markets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. Added Jay Haley, a wind consultant with EAPC Engineers and Architects in Grand Forks, “If transmission capacity is increased, it would benefit both of North Dakota’s abundant energy resources, coal and the wind.”