BISMARCK — Some North Dakota lawmakers are looking to establish a large investment pool for clean energy projects along with an accompanying advisory board to help direct the use of those funds.
The newly-introduced House Bill 1452 calls for the state to set aside $25 million from its general fund over the next two years for sustainable energy investment. It also calls for the creation of a 15-member committee called the North Dakota Clean Sustainable Energy Authority, which would be tasked with vetting sustainable energy projects for state investment.
The legislation comes as developers in North Dakota’s fossil fuel industry—and especially its coal sector—have vented about the increasing difficulty they've had in attracting serious financial backing due to a movement among private sector investors towards environmentally-conscious projects.
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“The market is asking for low carbon alternatives for their industry, and we need to give the market what they’re looking for,” said Rep. Glenn Bosch, R-Bismarck, who introduced the bill.
Wall Street's interest in socially and environmentally conscious investing has grown in recent years, a trend that has presented major roadblocks to expensive energy development projects in North Dakota. Gov. Doug Burgum has often noted the need to put a more positive brand on the state's coal and oil industry projects, while leaders of North Dakota's high profile carbon capture pilot program, Project Tundra, have said that the project's reliance on coal has made it harder to bring in high-dollar investors.
Sen. Jessica Unruh-Bell, an environmental manager for North American Coal Corporation and a cosponsor on the bill, said she thinks the creation of the Clean Sustainable Energy Authority and the investment fund would help move major projects like Project Tundra "from the research phase into the commercial phase."
Comprising 15 members, the Clean Sustainable Energy Authority would consist of delegates from the state’s major energy sectors, including representatives from the oil and gas research council, the Lignite Research Council and the Renewable Energy Council. The committee would serve as an advisory arm to the Industrial Commission, the business oversight body comprising Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, which would have final say on the allotment of grants, loans and other financial assistance.
The initial $25 million would be a one-time allotment, but Bosch's legislation outlines continuing appropriations to the fund through legislative transfers, grants and interest.
Bosch said that he envisions investments going towards both renewable industry developments like wind farms, and toward projects aimed at decreasing the carbon footprint of the state's fossil fuel industry.
Bell noted that investments through the Clean Sustainable Energy Authority could also be leveraged to bring in more federal funding.
And while Bosch noted that the authority is explicitly designed to funnel state dollars into sustainable energy projects, Adam Mathiak, a fiscal analyst for the state’s Legislative Council, noted that the fund may also help to attract private-sector investment into North Dakota projects. A stamp of approval from the Clean Sustainable Energy Fund could signal to socially-conscious investors that the environmental credentials of a North Dakota project have been properly vetted.
“We can’t say that that movement doesn’t exist. It’s raised a reality,” said Bosch. “So if we can do things to create the cleanest and sustainable energy with the resources that we have, that’s a good thing.”
The bill has the backing of GOP leadership in both Legislative chambers, in addition to the support of the powerful House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, and one Democrat.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.