On February 17th, Senator Dwight Cook placed his thumb on the scale to favor the coal and oil industries in North Dakota. His amendment to ban wind development for two years was met with bitter yet eager support from Senator Jessica Unruh who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and works in the coal industry. Members of the Republican Party who proclaim our government should not pick winners and losers are attempting to do just that through ill-advised law.
The arguments in support of banning wind development range from fairness to pay back. Apparently, low taxes to incentivize wind development is frowned upon. Never you mind that exact same argument was used by Republicans to lower the oil extraction tax. "We need to lower the oil tax, or they will all leave!" shouted former Governor Ed Schafer from the tour bus his photo was on when he toured the state. Tax incentives: good for oil, despised for wind.
Politicians like to claim support for "all-of-the-above" energy policies. For some, including Cook and Unruh, those words ring hollow as you will hear in the audio on the slides below. We are beyond campaign talking points. It is time to govern and unfortunately what is said before election day doesn't always transfer to our Capitol committee rooms.
It isn't just these committee members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who fear wind development. Congressman Kevin Cramer declared wind farms are a "serious threat" to the coal industry in a Grand Forks Herald article earlier this month. The article by April Baumgarten goes on to talk about how wind energy has become the largest renewable energy source in the U.S. and North Dakota has played a large part in that. Banning development for two years not only hampers the progress of renewable energy, but it also would hurt North Dakota businesses like LM Wind Power in Grand Forks. To paraphrase Senator Jim Roers (audio available on slide 3) why would they want to ban something that has been working so well? How pro-business of these Republicans.
This potential ban also comes at a horrible time (as if there would ever be a good time for this). For the next two years, the Renewable Production Tax Credit (PTC) is still in place. It would be idiotic to ban those incentives as a state and hurt the booming businesses involved with wind development that call North Dakota home. We should continue to allow the use of the PTC to our full advantage and diversify our energy production.
The debate held in the committee is intriguing. I understand the urge to protect the coal industry and the hundreds of North Dakotans who work in the industry. However, that should not be done at the detriment of other energy resources. In the slides below, I broke up the audio to highlight specific comments made by each Senator on their particular slide. The full debate audio can be heard unedited on slide 9. If you have 25 minutes of your time, I encourage you to listen to the full debate.
When is enough, enough for wind? I would guess when the locals say ‘I don’t want any more’ – Senator Erin Oban
Oban went on to explain that she is supportive of coal, oil, gas, wind, and solar if they are viable options for energy in the state. At a time when our state’s budget is struggling, she doesn’t understand why we’d take any energy development off the table.
Oban did not receive any contribution from energy related committees during her campaign in 2014. She is up for reelection in 2018.
Senator Oban voted against the two-year wind development ban.
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