North Dakota Looks to Renewable Energy in 2005

Legislators in North Dakota don’t meet again until next year, but they will have a renewable energy proposal to work with when they come back from the holidays. Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson praised the initiative proposed by Rep. Pam Gulleson (D-Rutland), and Sen. Joel Heitkamp, (R-Hankinson) as a bold plan to develop renewable energy resources in the state.

“Senator Joel Heitkamp and Representative Pam Gulleson have provided a detailed blueprint for expanding the state’s wind generation and ethanol production and making the state a leader in biodiesel refining and biomass energy,” Johnson said. “The resources are already in place; this proposal would provide a process to exploit them.” The legislative package establishes a renewable energy development commission and a $20 million renewable energy trust fund with a continuing appropriation. If the North Dakota legislature accepts the proposal, a commission would be formed to administer and use the renewable energy fund to carry out the renewable energy policy for projects that advance the use of renewable energy. Tax credits recommended in the proposal include a credit for biodiesel equipment sales costs and for the purchase of vehicles using fuel cells. The proposal also provides an income tax credit of 50 percent on equity investments in qualified renewable energy projects. Maximum credits allowed under the proposal are $20,000 per person per project. A substantial tax credit would be available for using ethanol blended fuels, and the proposed bill recommends that all retail establishments with more than one pump for motor vehicle fuel must offer ethanol fuel. Though Johnson has shown support for the proposal, an article by Knight Ridder reporter Mikkel Pates suggests that the proposal won’t make it into the Governor’s biennial budget. “It’s a tough sell,” according to an article quote from Lance Gaebe, who is the agricultural policy aide to North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. Money for the trust fund would come out of the general fund budget profits held at the Bank of North Dakota. Gaebe stated that the profits from the bank are currently dedicated to other parts of the budget, and that many of the bill’s provisions are redundant to existing laws and agencies. Despite the existing infrastructure, Johnson said the initiative gives North Dakotans hope for real economic development and new jobs. “We all know that North Dakota is number one in wind energy potential,” he said. “Right now, we are number 12 in actual wind energy production with 66.3 megawatts, far behind California with 2,043 megawatts and Texas with 1,293 megawatts. Even Minnesota has almost nine times the amount of wind energy generation capacity than we do.” Johnson, Rep. Gulleson and Sen. Heitkamp will have plenty of opportunities to work with the proposed legislation before the January session. The North Dakota Renewable Energy Partnership is sponsoring a 2004 Renewable Energy Summit on December 6-7. “There is plenty of opportunity to take this package, together with other ideas and proposals, and position this state for a dominant role in renewable energy,” Johnson said.

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