A 2017 study by North Dakota State University and the Utility Shareholders of North Dakota estimated that in 2016 $174.8 million was generated in business activity by the wind industry. The study, “Wind Energy Industry’s Contribution to the North Dakota Economy in 2016,” estimated that $57 million was statewide personal income and $55 was generated in the retail sector.
A 2017 study by North Dakota State University and the Utility Shareholders of North Dakota estimated that in 2016 $174.8 million was generated in business activity by the wind industry. The study, “Wind Energy Industry’s Contribution to the North Dakota Economy in 2016,” estimated that $57 million was statewide personal income and $55 was generated in the retail sector. This is nearly double what wind generated in 2011, $98.7 million. “The percentage increase in business activity,” wrote the study’s authors, “parallels the growth in generation capacity.”
Certainly compared to what came off the Oil Patch in one year, this seems a pittance. Where this differs greatly from oil is the consistency. The economic impact of wind is rural and across the state, and can be counted on for the next couple of decades as each turbine pays its way without boom or bust. Rural landowners, townships, counties, school districts all benefit from the growth of wind in North Dakota.
One of the largest owners of wind farms in North Dakota is NextEra Energy Resources. They generate electricity on fourteen wind farms, through 1053 turbines in North Dakota, nearly 1250 MW of power. NextEra (OtterTail Electric) are the owners of the Langdon Wind Farm, in Cavalier County. NextEra has three new wind farms under development in North Dakota. They have also have two natural gas pipelines.
In North Dakota alone, NextEra has invested $2.5 billion. They have a $20 million a year payroll, pay landowners nearly $6 million for leases, and contribute nearly $2 million in local property taxes. When the GateHouse Media series on wind energy published nationwide, people in the company were a little surprised.
““I was really disappointed with the GateHouse series,” said Brian Garner. “There was no positive side in the series and it was deliberately misleading. I worked closely with one of the reporters, Emily Le Coz, answering questions, exchanging emails, and at one point I finally said to her, ‘You seem to have an agenda and are only seeking out the people you want.’ I emailed her names of people to talk to, studies debunking the health claims, but she didn’t use any of them. In fact, many of the people she talked to and used in the articles were not mentioned as anti-wind activists.” Garner is Manager of Communications for NextEra.
Garner said NextEra and other energy companies have a commitment, an obligation, to communities and the landowners in those communities. He said he understands that not everyone wants to live next to a wind turbine, but not everyone wants to live next to a mall or a mine, either. That’s why they only go into communities where they’re invited.
“We only come into towns and communities we’re invited,” he said. “And where landowners want us. We want to maintain good relations with all the people in the communities we’re in; we want to be good corporate citizens. We’re in this for the long haul and want to always have a positive impact on the communities we operate in.”
“I don’t want to paint everyone with a broad brush,” Garner added, “but some of the loudest dissenters are those who didn’t want the wind farms and don’t want development.”
There are two primary objections to wind farms in the U.S., one is migratory birds and bats getting thrashed by the rotors, and the other is health, one is the constant noise and the other is flicker shadow.
“There is no correlation between turbines and health,” Garner stated emphatically. “When properly sited the overwhelming evidence, from eighty peer-reviewed studies, is there is no health correlation at all. And we site our turbines in accordance to the wishes of landowners and communities, and local, state, and federal guidelines and regulations.” Part of siting is that turbines can’t be within 1,440 feet of an occupied structure.
Larger wind farms are planned right now for North Dakota. The first phase of a major wind farm project in Barnes County was approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission (ND PSC) at a December meeting in 2016 and Phase II was approved by ND PSC in 2017. The Glacier Ridge Wind Project is a 300 MW project.
The Glacier Ridge Wind Farm’s permit application states that when complete it will have up to 87 wind turbines on dozens of properties north and east of Valley City, ND. Construction of Phase I of the project started a week after approval. Space for 19 wind turbines where the foundations will be executed have been dug.
Matt Boys of Renewable Energy Systems, who is the development manager of the project, said RES partnered with a group of landowners called Peak Wind and have been co-developing the Glacier Ridge Wind Farm since 2009. RES expects substantial construction activity to occur at the end of 2019 and to be completed by the end of 2020.
The project started over 10 years ago with a group of local farmers and landowners (they named the company Peak Wind), and as the project advanced Peak selected RES to jointly develop the project to leverage the development, engineering, and construction expertise of RES. The total project cost wasn’t available at press time.
“The project will deliver low-cost renewable energy to the grid for over 25 years,” Raheleh Folkerts wrote in an email. “In addition to low cost, clean energy, the project will benefit the local area in three direct ways.”
First, she said, the local farmers and landowners will benefit from community payments while continuing to enjoy and use their property (approximately oner percent or less of the land will be taken out of production). Second, the project will pay local and state taxes which will help pay for schools, police, fire departments, roads, infrastructure, and other services. And last, the project is expected to create approximately 350 temporary construction jobs during the peak of construction as well as approximately eight to twelve full-time operations and maintenance jobs.
“Alternatives to traditional energy sources are on the rise,” Folkerts added, “and that means that jobs in the green energy sector are on the rise as well.”
“NextEra has spent over $2.5 billion in North Dakota,” Garner said. “We have fourteen wind farms and two natural gas pipelines. Our payroll where we’re at in North Dakota is $20 million a year. We pay landowners $5.8 million in lease payments. And that doesn’t count the millions going to local governments in property taxes.
“Just think how self-supporting that makes various local governments. They don’t have to raise taxes and can offset any decrease in funding the state may make. We also help with the infrastructure when we move in. We leave the roads as good if not better than when we arrived, and the access roads are for the landowner to use.”
Fred Gackle of Kulm, ND, agrees. “This has been a good thing for us,” he said. “Not only the lease, but the access roads make it easier for trucks at harvest.”
Gackle is a farmer in Kulm, and a landowner for the first wind farm in North Dakota. “The turbines went operational in 2003,” he said, “and we farm around nine turbines. It’s never an issue.”
The economic impact, Gackle said, is good for the person who owns the land, but also what goes back to the townships, county, and state. “The school district here,” he said, “was able to build a new school because of the tax revenue from the wind farm.”
“We’ve been living and working around these for fifteen years,” said Gackle, “and the only negatives are a couple of the turbines that were nearer the house. The sound. But now we’re used to it and don’t notice it anymore. And I know that one of the objections to constructing wind farms are migratory birds, but in fifteen years I’ve only ever seen one dead duck, and I’m not sure it even hit a turbine.”
“Wind energy has done a tremendous amount of good for North Dakota,” said Garner. “It’s been a great driver of rural economic prosperity, providing payments for landowners, tax dollars for communities, and good paying jobs. It’s also a source of pride for many Americans who are glad, once and for all, that our country can reduce its dependence on foreign sources of energy.”