Power grid issues, and 'wind fatigue'
Members of the North Dakota Public Service Commission say there is a potential stumbling block to developing more electricity production in the state.
And that is – the power grid.
"The transmission grid is at or approaching its capacity," said Commissioner Julie Fedorchak.
Fedorchak said projects like wind farms then have to be put in a “queue”, waiting for space on the grid. She said that can be expensive. Fedorchak said, for example, the proposed Ruso wind project’s interconnection costs to the "Midwest Independent System Operator," or “MISO,” regional transmission operator’s system are around $500 million.
"The whole project cost was about $250 million," Fedorchak said. "That's just not economic."
Fedorchak said the Ruso developers are now looking at joining the Southwest Power Pool, another regional transmission operator. She said this situation will likely lead to more long term planning for transmission – and the electric grid.
Fedorchak said the big issue will be – who is going to pay for it.
"The question becomes -- how much should North Dakota customers pay for infrastructure to take projects developed here, that have some benefit to the local economy, and bring electricity to different parts of the regions where power is needed," Fedorchak said. "That's going to be where the real discussions and negotiations occur."
And as that issue is debated, recently there has been some push-back from some landowners on the development of wind farms.
Notably, a wind farm project to be located in southern Burleigh County was shelved because of local opposition. And that’s led some to conclude there is “wind fatigue.”
Allete Clean Energy of Duluth is a major player in the development of wind farms.
"I think there is infrastructure fatigue, broadly," said Allete president Al Ruedick. "We've seen the same in the oil patch, in terms of pipeline, trucks and traffic."
Ruedick said that has to be managed in cooperation with local communities.
"We need to go at the pace the communities want to go," Ruedick said. "We don't want to get ahead of the communities, or the state policy-makers."
But Ruedick said it's good for North Dakota to continue to develop its energy resources.
"That would serve the state as well as the nation's energy needs," Ruedick said.
Ruedick said Allete has had great relations with landowners, when wind turbines are placed on their property. And he said there are other wind projects being talked about for North Dakota.