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Renewable energy fund to be proposed in N.D.

Renewable energy advocates recently met in Jamestown, N.D., to discuss initiatives they hope to introduce during the upcoming legislative session, including a less strict version of the green electricity standards proposed to Grand Forks and Farg...

Renewable energy advocates recently met in Jamestown, N.D., to discuss initiatives they hope to introduce during the upcoming legislative session, including a less strict version of the green electricity standards proposed to Grand Forks and Fargo, N.D., voters this fall.

The North Dakota Renewable Energy Partnership, comprised of representatives from various industries and agencies in the state, will coordinate legislative efforts promoting both a state renewable energy fund and standards for renewable energy, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson says.

"The goal is really to promote renewable energy and try and grow the renewable energy industry," he says.

Some of the more aggressive efforts to promote renewable energy have failed in previous sessions. In 2005, a bill that aimed to create a $12 million fund for renewable energy projects was killed on the House floor.

More recently, local initiatives that would have required utilities serving Grand Forks and Fargo to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 failed to pass. The Grand Forks initiative did, however, win 47 percent of the votes cast in the November election.

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Despite those defeats, the idea of a state-appropriated renewable energy fund and efforts to implement standards for renewable energy use are not dead in North Dakota.

Cash, goals

One of the major incentives discussed by the partnership is a $20 million general fund appropriation for the development of renewable energy. The bill also would include an additional $5 million earmarked specifically for the development of North Dakota's biomass industry.

Jared Hargert, president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, says much of what has been discussed still is in the preliminary stages, and there are a variety of incentives on the table that may not be in the final bill.

Apart from the renewable energy development fund, another proposed incentive include a biomass energy center made up of a multidisciplinary group led by researchers and extension faculty at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

On the standards end, the partnership has discussed an objective of producing 20 percent of the electricity sold in North Dakota from renewable sources by the year 2020.

The failed Grand Forks and Fargo initiatives would have set firm mandates for utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity for the cities from wind and other renewable resources. The mandates would have increased to 30 percent in 2030.

Utilities argued that the mandates might have forced Grand Forks and Fargo to pay premium prices for electricity, putting them at a disadvantage for economic development.

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That would be less of an issue with a "standard" that would be something less strict than a mandate and that would be applied statewide. Other states, including Minnesota, are considering setting similar renewable energy goals.

The North Dakota group also is considering a goal of using biofuels to replace 25 percent of the petroleum used in gasoline production by the year 2020. A bill that would require the state to give preference to bio-based products on energy purchases of $10,000 or more has been drafted as well.

Johnson, a strong supporter of renewable energy standards, says the partnership will meet again Jan. 4 in Bismarck, N.D., to further define its legislative agenda.

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