From North Dakota to Minnesota

By Anna Simet | May 23, 2014

Recently, I relocated from central North Dakota to Minnesota’s Twin Cities.  So far, everything is going great. I love it here. Not only is it beautiful, but there’s so much to do. The only issue I have —and I write this with slight embarrassment—is learning how to drive here. As one might imagine, in N.D., what’s considered traffic is starkly different than what it is here (that is, if you’re not in the Williston area).

Speaking of both North Dakota and Minnesota, I grew up right on the border, which is the Red River. So really wasn’t much a difference to me which side of the river I was on; couldn’t really tell the difference. Well, unless it was a speeding ticket. Then I’d rather not be on the Minnesota side.

The point of all of this is that I have recently come to realize how very different these neighbor states are, in terms of their overall energy landscapes. As I reported earlier in the week, on Monday, there was an event held at the Swedish-American Institute in Minneapolis, during which  experts, advocates and stakeholders from Minnesota and Sweden  discussed potential and existing parallels between Sweden’s and Minnesota’s approaches to expanding the use of renewable transportation fuel, including policy drivers, best practices and current and future opportunities. There, I learned a lot about Minnesota and all of its bioenergy initiatives.

Minnesota Trade Office executive director Kathleen Motzenbecker said the state currently has 30 MW of biogas-fuelled electricity production from nine landfills, 12 biomass-fuelled combined-heat-and-power facilities, and is a national leader in production and use of ethanol and biodiesel (it has 491 MW from electricity from biomass and waste, according to ACORE) And there’s much more in the works, not to mention that Minnesota has a mandatory renewable portfolio standard of 25 percent by 2025.

Out in N.D., all you hear about is the oil and coal, and it’s one of the minority states that do not have a mandatory RPS. That isn’t the only story to tell, though, as N.D. ranked 11th in the U.S. for wind power in 2012 (if you are an N.D. native, that will not surprise you) and, according to the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy, tenth in ethanol production (365 MMgy).  But that seems to be nearly it when it comes to bioenergy (though in terms of potential biomass resources, i.e. energy beets and/or beet waste, corn stover) N.D. has a great deal of underutilized potential). As ACORE stated in a recent report, even though N.D. has an array of state tax incentives, loan programs, and other incentives encourage developers to take advantage of the state’s outstanding renewable resources, historically low energy prices command conventional energy generation.

To add some context as to how renewables compare to fossil generation in N.D., according to the NDARE, the North Dakota lignite coal industry is about 3 times the size of the renewable energy industry with approximately $3 billion in annual total economic impacts. And, in 2011, the oil and gas industry generated $11.7 billion in direct business activity and $18.7 billion in secondary business activity, for a total of $30.4 billion in economic impact for N.D.

 According to the U.S. EIA, Minnesota has NO crude oil, natural gas or coal production. While the state is working hard at utilizing the resources it has (forests!), and is focusing on renewable  and bioenergy technologies, North Dakota is lagging behind in that department.

Before I wrap up this blog, I’ll say that I do agree that our nation needs a mix of homegrown energy sources. But eventually, one day, the fossil fuel boom in N.D. will come to an end. It’s important to keep renewable and bioenergy generation increasing as time goes on, taking advantage of as much potential and resources as is sustainably available, so when that boom does come to an end, there’s a healthy capacity of clean energy and fuel available.

So anyway, I look forward to perfecting my big city driving, and perhaps one day I'll be filling up with some Minnesota-brewed, biogas-based road fuel.