Port: Why would North Dakota taxpayers help subsidize a Minnesota law we're also challenging in court?

Does that make a lick of sense?

Wind Turbines.jpg
Wind turbines
File photo

MINOT, N.D. — When Minnesota's lawmakers passed a new ban on energy from carbon-producing sources, like coal, the North Dakota Industrial Commission — made up of Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Drew Wrigley, and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring — made it clear that the state would file suit over it.

After all, North Dakota, rich in coal resources, has sued Minnesota before over similar a similar law and won. The constitution gives Congress, and not state governments, the authority to regulate interstate commerce.

Mike Brandenburg
Seen here in 2017, Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, testifies at the North Dakota Public Service Commission hearing on the Foxtail Wind Farm at Ellendale, N.D.
Keith Norman / Forum News Service

So it's odd to see that a bill representing the budget for the Industrial Commission would contain what appears to be an earmark for a transmission line to service the strictures of Minnesota's new ban on coal power.

A section of House Bill 1014, which passed in the House but was removed in the Senate, would devote $25 million to a transmission line serving Minnesota. That's intended to match funding from Minnesota's taxpayers. The bill is now in conference committee, with senators and representatives hashing out the differences in their respective versions.

There's an effort, led by state Rep. Mike Brandenburg, a major proponent of wind power, to put that $25 million back into the budget.


The corresponding legislation in Minnesota is House File 2011, which also represents a $25 million appropriation. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported last month that this money is intended to subsidize the refurbishment of a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line that transported coal power in the past but, in the future, will be committed to wind energy.

In committee testimony (video here), Rep. Dave Lislegard, a Democrat and the sponsor of HF2011, said his legislation "assists [Minnesota] in reaching its goal of 100% by 2040" by "allowing additional renewable energy resources to flow to our state."

Julie Pierce, a vice president for Minnesota Power, said in that same committee hearing that the funding was needed to "modernize" this "critical piece of infrastructure" to "position it for the future needs as we continue to advance our journey to a carbon-free future."

So, in summary, this would mean North Dakota would spend $25 million on subsidies, to match Minnesota's $25 million in subsidies, to update a piece of infrastructure to help Minnesota implement a law banning coal-fired electricity from North Dakota.

A law our state's leaders have also said they will sue Minnesota over.

Does that make a lick of sense?

We can get into the debate over subsidies. North Dakota has taken some extraordinary steps to protect our coal industry. National policy, not to mention policy in other states like Minnesota, has put a big, fat thumb on the scale against coal-fired energy and in favor of other sources like wind and solar. Our state has an interest in protecting coal, not just for the sake of jobs and the economy, but for the resiliency of a regional power grid that has grown too dependent on intermittent energy sources.

Complain about untoward government interventions if you like, but that ship has sailed. We've got interventions on top of interventions at every level of government.


But in the context of this specific subsidy, in the specific context of North Dakota's looming legal battle with Minnesota over the latter's attempt to regulate interstate energy commerce, passing this subsidy would be a really bad idea.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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