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Wind Brings Great Deal of Economic Development Potential to the Table

Wind Brings Great Deal of Economic Development Potential to the Table

Date: 9/16/2009

Location: ND

Source: Stacia Cudd, National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service

Audio with Jay Haley, Partner with EAPC Architects Engineers (MP3 1.7 MB) Download Windows Media Player. Time: 00:03:33.

North Dakota has been called the Saudi Arabia of wind. It has the greatest wind energy potential of any state in the U.S. In fact, North Dakota alone is theoretically capable of producing enough wind-generated power to meet more than a fourth of the nation's electricity demand. But the idea of wind energy has only started to take off in North Dakota in the last four years.

Jay Haley, a partner with Grand Forks-based EAPC Architects Engineers, says there were a couple of barriers to wind development — the biggest of which was the reluctance of the state's utilities.

"They were concerned about the variability of the wind energy and they didn't believe that wind energy could be cost effective. They were also, understandably, quite protective of their transmission assets and they were worried about how the new wind generators would affect the reliability of the grid. In addition, the local utilities all have major investments in coal-fired generation and the coal companies felt threatened by the potential competition from wind energy. Secondly, the State personal property tax that is assessed to wind farms was really too high and made us not competitive with our neighboring states. It was basically economically unfeasible for wind developers to work in North Dakota."

Add to that the strong influence the utilities and coal companies had with state legislators — and Haley says it just wasn't possible to get any wind-favorable legislation passed.

But then local economic development groups interested in attracting wind development started to emerge as advocates of wind. Haley was involved as their consultant when they started lobbying state legislators — calling wind energy one of the greatest forms of economic development North Dakota has ever seen — and noting how it would revitalize rural communities throughout the state.

"Over a period of a few years, we attracted quite a bit of media attention, which led to more and more local groups being formed. And at the end, this ended up being a highly successful grassroots campaign that ended up creating a step-change in attitude towards wind energy by the state legislators. The first most important bill that we were able to get passed was a reduction in the personal property tax assessment to a level that made us competitive with neighboring states."

Haley says that bill passed almost unanimously — yet legislators in the previous session wouldn't even pass a resolution to study the potential benefits of wind.

The grassroots campaign didn't just have an impact with policymakers but with the general public as well. Haley says he conducted more than 200 wind energy informational meetings across the state over a period of about four years.

"In the beginning, the general public was basically unaware of the potential, or at least they were under the false impression that wind energy was not feasible for North Dakota because it was either too expensive, it was unreliable and supposedly we had no transmission. After a number of the informational meetings were conducted, along with the associated publicity that followed, the general public became very interested in seeing wind development take place in their region mainly because of the economic development potential."

During those meetings, Haley says the Wind Powering America wind map was a great tool to get folks behind the wind movement. He says learning about the economic development potential and then seeing just how great the local wind resource was generated plenty of excitement. In fact, he says the direct result of many meetings was the formation of a wind committee and a question — how do we get started?

This information was last updated on August 09, 2011