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Published May 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

VIEWPOINT: Low-carbon economy suits N.D.

Two weeks ago, the North Dakota Public Service Commission came out against the federal energy and climate legislation making its way through Congress (“N.D. regulators oppose ‘cap and trade’ carbon rules,” Page 1B, May 19).

By: Jason Schaefer, Ashley, N.D.

ASHLEY, N.D. — Two weeks ago, the North Dakota Public Service Commission came out against the federal energy and climate legislation making its way through Congress (“N.D. regulators oppose ‘cap and trade’ carbon rules,” Page 1B, May 19).

We stand at a crossroads with regard to energy. With the right policies and tools in place, North Dakota can build its energy, agriculture and technology sectors to meet our nation’s energy needs while creating lasting prosperity and being good stewards of the environment. In short, North Dakota can dominate the renewable and low-carbon energy economy of the future.

One of the most important policy tools at our disposal is a market-based price on carbon via a cap on emissions. This will spur the development of renewable energy as well as investment in advanced coal technologies.

North Dakota is ranked first in the nation for wind energy potential and perennial grass biomass production. In addition, our existing energy infrastructure, strong research capability within our universities and potential in emerging renewable energy resources such as hydrogen and advanced geothermal places the state in a position of great advantage.

Take wind energy, for example. The Midwest Governors Association has a goal of getting 30 percent of the region’s electricity to come from wind by 2030. If North Dakota — with one-fourth of the region’s wind resource — generated just one-sixth of that goal, it would spur more than $27 billion of investment to erect the turbines and create more than $50 billion in revenues over the life of the turbines, according to the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy.

North Dakota already is leading the way in researching and deploying carbon capture and storage of coal. However, it is hard to imagine this ever becoming a widely used technology if we do not have a market-based price on carbon to spur investment.

The federal energy and climate legislation being considered provides a framework to price carbon. The North Dakota Public Service Commission is wrong to hastily dismiss this vital and historic step forward. As T. Boone Pickens has noted, we have been calling for energy independence for more than 40 years, but we haven’t had a plan. Finally, Washington is getting its act together, and we have a plan that transitions us to a cleaner, more secure energy future.

Energy is a $6 trillion global business. It is the mother of all markets. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create lasting opportunity here in North Dakota while addressing our nation’s biggest challenges.

Schaefer is a project manager with Prairie Climate Stewardship Network.

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