Griggs and Steele counties in North Dakota plan to employ the community and financial advantages of an Empowerment Zone designation to develop wind resources. They have their eyes on a forthcoming request by Minnesota utility Northern States Power for about 130 MW of wind power. The utility is mandated to buy 425 MW of wind energy by 2001 and has so far developed nearly 300 MW.
"The Empowerment Zone is a package that promotes community and economic development, all in one," says Jay Haley of a local architectural firm that is advising the Griggs-Steele Empowerment Zone (EZ). With EZ designation, the counties have access to below market interest rates, accelerated depreciation and some tax breaks, he explains, all of which are attractive to wind developers. An EZ designation brings into the area about $2 million a year for ten years as seed money to improve community and economic development.
As well as obtaining EZ status in 1998, Griggs and Steele have two further attractions for wind: a very good resource thanks to the Pembina Escarpment and, from preliminary studies, enough transmission to export the power. This means North Dakota could potentially be the largest wind producer in the US, according to Haley. So far, only five commercial scale wind turbines have been installed in all of North Dakota, and "those are 20-year old technology," notes Haley.
"Every attempt to give wind a chance in the state has been squashed by the huge coal lobby," he explains. "They view wind as competition, when what they ought to do is look at it as a chance for diversification."
If wind is developed to its potential in North Dakota, most of the power would have to be exported, just as most of the coal-produced power is exported to surrounding states. North Dakota is sparsely populated with only about 635,000 people. Griggs and Steele counties together have a population of only 5300, mostly employed on the land.
Haley says the EZ wouldn't be pursuing wind at this time if it were not for NSP's upcoming tender, because any production would have to find an out-of-state buyer. But the counties are only about 50 miles from Minnesota where most of NSP's customers reside.
There are limits, however, to how much more power can be exported. Even though a Western Area Power Authority 230 kV power line runs near where the turbines would be located, only about 150 MW could be exported from the area -- and those turbines would have to be placed in such a way that their output would not result in constraints on the system. A whole lot of power production and very little local load has resulted in a relatively unstable transmission system, says Haley. But there should be capacity for the NSP requirement.