It’s no dig to say North Dakota has a long and profitable relationship with lignite coal. And it will likely continue. But make no mistake, the development of alternative energy sources, and the accompanying “green” jobs, will not be turned away. As the Tribune has said before, the state is best served by an energy industry searching for balance among traditional and new alternative sources.
The Pew Charitable Trusts did a green-economy job count for North Dakota in 2007 and found 2,112 jobs. As wind turbines start becoming more common on the skyline that number has probably gone up. The North Dakota Lignite Council’s Web site tells us that burning soft coal to generate electricity, or to gasify it, means 4,074 direct jobs and 23,915 indirect jobs — 27,989 total.
The state’s unemployment rate for October was 3.2 percent. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need any more good paying jobs. We do. We want opportunities for our soon-to-be young adults, for North Dakotans who have strayed across the state line and newcomers to have a decent paying job here if they want and earn it.
Jobs in the wind farms, like those in the power plant industries, take technical skills. They require education. And they can pay better than the state average.
So the Bismarck Tribune opined yesterday. I just hope the ND Senators read the paper (see “When Sen. Dorgan finds out what’s in the climate bill “” hint, hint, White House “” he might just support it.”
Development of wind-powered electricity today finds itself on the leading edge of a boom. Announcements of new wind farms to be built have become common. The number of proposed towers and turbines grows steadily. The transmission bottlenecks are being solved. This is despite wind not being perfect — not blowing all of the time; however, in North Dakota, if the wind is not blowing now, it will be. How do you store the energy delivered by the wind for times when it is calm?As wind energy develops, the problems that hold it back will be solved. Just like they were solved for hydro electric and lignite-generated power, each in their time.
If the people of North Dakota have learned anything from a boom and bust past, it’s that our farms and economy need to be diversified. So to it is with energy development — diversified and balanced. That means not betting the farm on wind, even if it’s green. It means not sticking exclusively with lignite to the detriment of wind, biodiesel and ethanol.
The ideas of sustainability and self sufficiency, both admirable, are not mutually exclusive. And when diversity and balance are added to the mix, the overlap ensures a better opportunity for the future of the people of North Dakota.