In the headlines right now the State of North Dakota (along with a few others) has become synonymous with lower energy prices.
Thanks to skyrocketing domestic oil production, oil and gasoline prices are falling. Perhaps too much, as while lower energy prices are good for the rest of the country, oil prices could fall too low to make drilling in places like North Dakota profitable.
But is North Dakota producing too much of another sort of energy, and is that production driving up utility bills?
Recently Forbes columnist James Taylor took a look at the top ten states for wind power as a percentage of that state’s total energy production.
North Dakota was tied for 4th place on the list with Minnesota and Idaho at 16 percent.
Taylor then calculated the percentage increase in the price of electricity in each state from 2008 to 2013, and what he found was startling. “The wind power industry claims switching from conventional power to wind power will save consumers money and spur the economy,” he wrote. “However, data from the top 10 wind power states show just the opposite. From 2008-2013 electricity prices rose an average of 20.7 percent in the top 10 wind power states, which is seven-fold higher than the national electricity price increase of merely 2.8 percent.”
North Dakota saw an above-average increase in electricity prices for states in the top ten for wind power, at 23 percent.
This isn’t a perfect comparison. You’ll notice that Wyoming had the smallest percentage of wind power but one of the largest increases in power. Still, the correlation between higher percentages of wind energy and higher power prices is real, and not that surprising given how much more expensive and unreliable wind power is compared to traditional alternatives like coal and natural gas.
Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann has been outspoken his his criticism of North Dakota’s growing reliance on wind power. “The North Dakota Legislature’s objective of 10 percent has long since been surpassed,” Christmann said earlier this year during a hearing on the $180 million Sunflower Wind project, which consists of 59 new turbines to be built in Morton and Stark counties, south of Hebron.
“It disturbs me that we are becoming this reliant on wind,” he said.
But Christmann doesn’t blame state leaders for this problem. Instead, it’s the EPA and the Obama administration that have implemented emissions rules that have left states like North Dakota with “zero alternatives” to meet new energy demands.
Despite a wealth of coal reserves in the state, building capacity to meet new demand with coal-fired energy is all but impossible thanks to current policies.
This leaves North Dakota in the awkward position of sitting on a veritable ocean of energy, while paying higher prices for it.