Is it time to review the criteria for siting energy facilities in North Dakota?
The ND Public Service Commission (PSC) recently rejected a wind farm in Burke County based largely upon concerns expressed by ND Game and Fish (and US Fish and Wildlife) regarding wildlife, habitat and wetlands. The project would have brought over $400 million of new investment in Burke County and would have paid over $1 million annually in property taxes.
ND law requires the PSC to give notice to 27 agencies (but does not specify that the PSC must follow the wishes of those agencies). The law does provide that if the project violates an agency “rule,” the project may not be approved.
The law gives the PSC complete discretion in approving or disapproving a project, after it considers the “factors” required by law, and does not dictate any weighted formula or mathematical calculus by which the specific factors should be considered. Some might urge such a rigid mathematical formula to make the decision but, North Dakotan’s for Comprehensive Energy Solutions prefers to trust the good judgment of elected officials guided by policy crafted in the Legislature.
The point is, the ND PSC members have ultimate discretion in making the decision, after following the process, and considering the “factors” specified by the law.
So, does the law need to be revisited? Should we make it clear that in a close case, private property rights and economic development should have priority? Should birds and wetlands take priority over the people? Should people be more important, specifically those who own land and who try to remain in North Dakota and are still attached to the land?
Private property rights are a big part of energy development in North Dakota, whether you are a royalty owner of oil and gas living in Fargo, or a landowner who hosts a pipeline and oil well location or a wind farm on your land. These developments have huge consequences for the landowner and their family. As an example, let’s say a landowner hosts three wind turbines on their land; this amounts to nearly a million dollars in revenue over the lifespan of the development to the family (3 turbines @ $10,000 annually = $30,000 x 30 years = $900,000).
The Burke County decision is over, but the discussion should not be. It does highlight the need to review the factors, determine the weight given to those factors, and which should have priority, if any. Discussion needs to continue on siting requirements and the process by which these projects should be considered. Does ND have it about right? We’re not sure…but certainly given the impact to private property rights and economic development opportunities for rural North Dakota, we think a discussion and review by our elected officials is in order.