An energized state: The year of the megawatt

North Dakota State Roundup

Published March 1, 2006  | March 2006 issue

That's what the Forum, Fargo's daily newspaper, called 2005 in North Dakota, and it's hard to argue. From coal digging to oil drilling to windmill spinning to power generating, the state's energy sector has been going full steam ahead.

For instance, through the first nine months of 2005, the state's oil production was 11 percent over the same period in 2004, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. In several cases, major projects were announced last year. For example, proposals for five new wind farms in the state were unveiled last year, including the largest one to date of 150 megawatts near Rugby. When completed, the five farms combined would increase wind power generation sixfold.

Though coal production has been mostly flat, numerous coal-fired power plants have been proposed across the country. A consortium of four companies is in the preliminary stages of planning a $1 billion coal-fired power plant near Center, N.D., that would boost the state's coal production by 10 percent all by itself.

Some projects finally got off the ground last year and are ready to come online this year. Two ethanol plants are currently under construction, and the state's first biodiesel plant (using canola seeds) is expected to begin production in Velva sometime this year.

Possibly the most unique proposal in the energy development pipeline is one for a new oil refinery—which, if it comes to pass, would be the nation's first oil refinery built in the last three decades and the first one ever on an Indian reservation—Fort Berthold Reservation, home to the Three Affiliated Tribes. The refinery, an $80 million facility outside of Makoti, was originally proposed three years ago and has been slowly jumping through hoops. It got a step closer when the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced it was scheduled to release an environmental impact statement on the refinery for public comment in March.

The refinery has a slated capacity of 15,000 barrels of oil a day, but with expansion opportunities to double that output. On an optimistic time frame, construction could hypothetically begin next year and employ up to 1,000 people. Once completed, the refinery would have an estimated 70 permanent jobs.

Ronald A. Wirtz