After power outages left thousands in the dark earlier this week, some are taking a closer look at the state’s grid reliability.
“We’re looking for reliability, we’re looking for resilience in our electric grid,” Sen. Rich Wardner said.
In short, Senate Bill 2313 says electricity generated in North Dakota must come from energy ready on-demand, like coal or natural gas. The bill would be a boon to coal-backers like Anna Novak, whose husband works at a mine north of Beulah.
“To say that coal is the lifeblood of our communities is almost minimizing how important it is to us back home,” Novak said.
But others say relying on coal and natural gas instead of a diversity of sources wouldn’t prevent blackouts like Texas experienced.
“That grid would have still failed because the supposedly dispatchable energy of natural gas and coal was unable to dispatch due to the weather conditions,” Ryan Warner said. Warner is the co-owner of Lightspring, a local solar company.
The bill doesn’t rule out other energy sources entirely, but it does set rules on sources that aren’t “dispatchable” or readily available for use.
Nondispatchable sources can adversely affect a power grid because of their intermittence. For example, solar energy might be impacted by a cloudy day, and wind energy by a lack of wind.
According to the bill, those “non-dispatchable” sources — wind and solar — could still be used to generate electricity if they have backup capacity, meaning they make up for their lessened reliability by paying for some of the dispatchable electricity.
“The main theme of the bill is firming up, meaning you have to have backup for your renewable energy, so if you have wind or solar, you’ve got to have natural gas or coal backing it up,” Wardner said.
That “firming requirement” is something the co-owner of a solar company disagrees with.
“All the firming requirement does is require that renewable energy subsidize the uneconomic operation of coal-fired power plants,” Warner said.
Sen. Rich Wardner sponsored the bill and says it’s not just about coal.
“A lot people think this is a contest between fossil fuels and renewable fuels. I don’t want it to be that. I want it to be where we work together and realizing that we have to have both,” Wardner said.
The bill also repeals the state’s adoption of the 25 by 25 initiative, which aims to have the U.S. producing 25% renewable energy by 2025.
Senator Wardner submitted an amendment to the bill, which the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed 5-1. It would require the state to create yearly reports about the power grid, and largely scraps the initial bill. The vote was taken later in the afternoon.