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Gruchalla: ND misses out on Xcel wind farm

Ed Gruchalla, candidate for ND House District 45 Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Last week, farmers in South Dakota were jumping up and down in excitement over the announcement by Xcel Energy that their new 300-megawatt wind energy farm would be built there instead of North Dakota. Xcel Energy pointed out that the political environment in North Dakota is challenging for wind energy development. This was further underlined by the announcement earlier this week that Xcel seeks to separate their North Dakota holdings from their Minnesota operations.

At the same time, land owners in North Dakota could only throw up their arms in despair for being deprived the opportunity to harvest their crop of wind energy. Our legislators proposed a moratorium earlier this year in an attempt to stifle the wind energy industry. The 300-megawatt installed capacity wind power plant to be built in South Dakota corresponds to an investment of nearly half a billion dollars, with future energy revenue loss of $1.4 billion during its planned lifetime. North Dakota legislators are happily throwing away earnings that under all circumstances are generated without the severe health-damaging externality costs contained in energy from lignite coal.

It is incomprehensible that legislators in our state are working against our farmers' interests and the regional consumers to prevent wind power plants from being constructed here. They are denying the state's farmers the right to harvest the wind and benefit regionally. Lignite is a very poor power source, sometimes containing up to 75 percent water, and can therefore not be exported in any economical form compared to better quality coal. Therefore, the lignite powered plants in North Dakota are producing an inferior product at alarming environmental costs to our state and country.

It is also incomprehensible that Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer are even entertaining the clean coal (read "all of the above") ideas of CO2 sequestration. Voters do, of course, understand that they are tapping into big coal's deep pockets to get re-elected. But, are they willing to make this compromise on the back of the tax payers?

Yes, they have proposed that the coal power plant owners should be allowed to obtain a tax credit for the installation costs of removing CO2, but a tax credit is just a way of passing the cost onto you, the taxpayer. This is money that you otherwise could have kept in your pocket. The lignite industry will, of course, respond by exaggerating how many jobs they keep going. When you are being criticized it is only natural that you overstate the impact it may have on employees, but when you dig into the numbers it becomes clear that the renewable energy sector will provide more and better jobs for North Dakotans than the lignite industry can claim. The lignite industry, over the last year, reduced jobs by 8 percent and the year before by 2 percent! Lignite jobs in North Dakota may be better paid than many other jobs, but they are not of significant.

Gruchalla is a member of CLEAN living in Fargo.