Letter: Blowhard: The Mike McFeely story

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Mike McFeely’s recent piece on McLean County/me/wind power/coal energy is so devoid of context and accurate facts that I thought I was reading The Onion not The Forum. Our Legislature doesn’t have to ban new wind energy projects next session, as McFeely fears, because wind power has about banned itself in our state. All quarters, including the wind lobby, have told our Legislature we’re running out of transmission capacity for more wind energy and some experts testified it will take hundreds of billions to address. The grid operator the eastern half of North Dakota sits in has testified that we’ve almost had three rolling grid brown/black outs in the last two years for want of transmission capacity.


The physics problem and transmission expense with wind energy exists because, for example, putting wall to wall wind turbines in the entire Red River Valley won’t guarantee power for Fargo when it’s not windy, or too windy, or 22 degrees below zero wherein the turbines have to be shut down. Therefore, to go carbon free we need to subsidize hundreds of square miles of wind turbines and power lines basically everywhere in hopes enough turbines are working somewhere to keep our lights on. That’s what the physicists tell us.
The climate change activist author of Short Circuiting Policy wrote about the big challenge faced in convincing rural America to largely be occupied by wind turbines, solar farms, and power lines so urban centers can have green energy. In her book, she also case-studied Texas which initially made a bipartisan attempt to develop a wind industry until transmission capacities were reached. Texas then spent $7 billion for transmission upgrades, but didn’t dent the problem, causing them to largely give up on wind as a primary power source. North Dakota is the new Texas, but we haven’t wasted the billions yet.

All that aside, last week walleye limits were running 18-22 inches in McLean County - filling our stores, bars, campgrounds and boat ramps with anglers. Those people come to fish and enjoy our landscape – not to gaze at a shoreline filled with wind turbines and power lines. McLean County has simply asked wind companies to stay a mile back from the Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea and Lake Audubon when they plan their projects. Burleigh County has had a similar setback from the river for years. I suspect lining Lake Minnetonka, the Boundary Waters, or the scenic drive along Lake Superior with wind turbines and high voltage power lines would elicit the same feelings many North Dakotans have for the last natural stretch of the Missouri River and the Lake Sakakawea shoreline.

McFeely expounds a typical urban pundit mentality. Rural America should just suck up the job losses from closing existing life-blood economies like our lignite industry that urbanites like him disfavor, and if we unsullied backwards folk disagree we just aren’t educated enough to understand a reality his troupe has ingested. As such, trouped “educated” policy is now replacing coal plants with small regional natural gas plants for power when the wind doesn’t blow. But 2.3% of methane gas leaks into the air and as more gas plants get built those releases will increase. When leakage hits 3.2% in a few years more greenhouse gases will be emitted into the air by gas plants than were emitted by coal plants. Therefore, we’re supposed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars for transmission infrastructure to get an intermittent energy source that needs back up gas plants that will put more greenhouse gases in the air than our current dependable lignite plants. Wisdom for the ages.


Carbon capture on lignite plants is the energy answer for North Dakota. The technology exists and is being perfected at a small fraction of the cost of infesting our whole countryside with wind turbines and big power lines for urban centers. In addition, the University of North Dakota recently learned how to extract rare earth metals from lignite coal making it cleaner burning which may lead to an exciting new industry that mitigates our dependence of foreign rare metal sources.

Imagine, in a few years you could come through McLean County on your way to a boat ramp and drive by what is already the most modern, efficient, and environmentally friendly coal plant in the country that will then no longer emit measurable carbon into the air – making it an example for the world in how to protect our climate while keeping our grids reliable and safe. And the picture of your limit of walleyes may be taken with a cell phone made of local instead of Chinese metals. That’s the vision we and our state leaders are investing in.

Despite everyone's best efforts in defending our lignite resources, things may not shakeout the way we all hope and McFeely will be able to smirk. But, good jobs, clean air, reliable power, and exciting new lignite-based industries are worth placing our bets on right now – apparently much to Mike McFeely’s chagrin.

Erickson is the state's attorney for McLean County in North Dakota.

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