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Letter: Don't be fooled by Gov. Burgum's plan to be carbon neutral by 2030

Kaye writes, "It is also bewildering that Oakland, whose expertise is in energy efficiency, would embrace a scheme that would reduce the efficiency of coal plants from their current 30% to 18%, making coal, by far, the least efficient form of energy production. Every other government is trying to make their energy production more efficient, and we are striving to make ours less efficient."

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Tom Oakland’s recent presentation made it clear that the governor’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2030 is less about solving the climate crisis and more about extending the viability of the fossil fuel industry. Oakland is the energy research and development manager for North Dakota's Commerce Department.

Given the fossil fuel industry accounts for a large share of the North Dakota budget (and politicians’ campaign finance), the governor’s office views renewable energy as crippling the state. The truth is, however, failing to transition to renewables will have an even larger crippling effect on North Dakota.

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Speaking before hundreds of oil industry operators and executives, the Republican governor advocated for a path to retain the core place of the state's fossil fuel industries while dramatically reducing their carbon footprint.

Oakland started his presentation by defining carbon neutrality as capturing only some of the carbon we produce, because the remaining carbon (the majority of energy products we produce) are exported. This definition misses the point. The climate crisis is a global problem. Cute accounting tricks that assign blame to other states doesn’t address the climate problem. The backbone of the so-called climate plan is largely risky, unproven carbon sequestration projects that not only green-wash fossil fuels but shower the fossil fuel industry in extremely large subsidies that make energy less efficient and more expensive. A tiny sliver of the plan (less than 10%) involves agriculture. The method of carbon reduction for this sector, however, was not explained in the presentation.

Remarkably, there was no mention of renewable energy except as a side note, explaining how significant investments in transmission and energy storage would be required to add more renewable capacity. Oakland explained these investments were not on the table due to their high cost, completely ignoring the fact that all the proposed sequestration projects are insanely expensive, relying largely on taxpayer money via 45Q tax credits. Furthermore, the governor’s team was able to attract $40 billion worth of potential capital investment for sequestration projects that prolong fossil fuels, but there was no mention of any money for projects that increase capacity of renewable energy.

When asked what happens when the 45Q tax credits expire Oakland had no answer. It is also bewildering that Oakland, whose expertise is in energy efficiency, would embrace a scheme that would reduce the efficiency of coal plants from their current 30% to 18%, making coal, by far, the least efficient form of energy production. Every other government is trying to make their energy production more efficient, and we are striving to make ours less efficient. (Did you know we are the only state in the 15-state MISO regional grid network that does not have any renewable energy goals?) Other states, including Texas, are maximizing their renewable capacity, because wind and solar are the least expensive and cleanest forms of electricity generation. Texas led the country in new renewable energy production in 2021.

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The role of government is to plan for the future. The entire world is moving away from fossil fuels. So, too, will North Dakota eventually transition away from fossil fuels, if not by free will, then surely by free market, or federal mandate. Failing to plan ahead for this day will all but guarantee a crippled state.

Sonja Kaye is a member of CLEAN, the Citizens Local Energy Action Network.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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