The Abrupt Committee Change Yesterday on Two-Year Wind Ban Does Nothing

After a weekend of outraged North Dakota citizens questioned the ill-advised two-year wind development ban, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent SB 2314 back to committee for further changes. Some thought the four committee members who voted for shutting down wind development to help the coal industry had been persuaded by the phone calls and emails. That is exactly what they want you to believe. Do not be fooled.

Senator Dwight Cook brought in the hog-house amendment to ban wind development for two years on Friday. Outside of it being a bad proposal that would be a loss of hundreds of millions of investment in ND for the next 2 years; 100s of jobs lost, and tens of millions in property taxes and landowner payments gone, you should be angry that Cook, along with Senators Unruh, Armstrong, and Schaible moved this without even holding a public hearing on the matter. They were attempting to sneak this large, impactful policy change right by you the public without you knowing. We uncovered it here first on ND xPlains. As a result of being exposed, Cook decided he’d change his proposal to, “take some of the edge” off of his two-year ban.

Here is the language of the change:

The two-year ban would remain in place but would give an out if the commission determines otherwise. The “commission” is a reference to the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) who already has a say along with local governments and residents in granting the permission of wind projects to go forward. This amendment changes nothing in the intent of the Senate Committee’s original amendment.

Commissioner Randy Christmann

The PSC rotates who is Chair of the three-member commission every two years. They rotate it conveniently to the member who is up for reelection in the next cycle. “Chair of the PSC” looks good on advertisements, I guess. Randel Christmann is the current chair of the PSC. Christmann is a former State Senator from District 33 who moved up to the PSC when Tony Clark resigned to take a federal job. 

If you looked at Christmann’s legislative bio, you’d see he was the Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate from 2001 to 2012 and a member of the Lignite Research Council. The connections don’t stop there, one of the top stories currently on the PSC’s website includes this caption, “Christmann receives award at Lignite Energy Council’s Annual Meeting.” The Lignite Energy Council is not to be mistaken with the Lignite Research Council.

During his 2012 campaign for the PSC, Christmann received $18,000 from Coal PAC and $5,000 from North American Coal PAC. You can view his full contribution report here. His opponent was Brad Crabtree who raised concern about the large contributions Christmann was receiving from industries the PSC regulate. The same argument was made against Kevin Cramer when he was on the PSC.

Christmann receives award at Lignite Energy Council’s Annual Meeting

In a previous article I wrote on Monday about this developing story, I pointed out Congressman Kevin Cramer declared wind energy was a “serious threat” to coal. In that same Grand Forks Herald article, Commissioner Christmann is quoted as saying, “That [wind] seems like a saturated market. If we continue to build wind as it is being built, you will see less energy from coal.” This is the Chair of the PSC which was given “permission” to do something the PSC already had the authority to do. It is all a facade by the Senate committee to “take the edge” off the angry two-year ban they want to be enacted. My point is, nothing changed in yesterday’s committee action.

I’ve heard from sources in the Capitol that Governor Burgum was not pleased at this shadowy development to ban wind. If this passes, he will have an important decision to make outside of a potential veto. An open seat rests in the PSC since Commissioner Brian Kalk resigned. Burgum will need to appoint Kalk’s replacement. Determining where they stand on this issue should be a deciding factor.

Are you curious who joined the Senate from District 33 after Christmann resigned to move onto the PSC? Senator Jessica Unruh of Beulah who is the current Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that just approved the two-year ban on wind development. North Dakota really is a small state.

Let me be clear; I am not anti-coal. The reason I have referenced that resource repeatedly in my series of articles on the wind development ban is that Senators Cook and Unruh made it abundantly clear in their public remarks that they want to shut down wind to help coal. I’m adding the layers to the story to show you the connections key players have to these particular industries. As I would have voted against this two-year ban on wind, I would have voted for the multi-million dollars of state money to go toward coal research.

In the end, the market will truly decide, but legislators need to recognize we are not on an island. Prohibiting wind in our state will simply push those hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and good paying jobs to other states where wind will continue to produce energy on to the electrical grid. Yes, it will continue to compete against coal just as natural gas will continue to compete even if this ill-advised plan moves forward.

Tyler Axness
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