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Faces of North Dakota's Wind-Energy: sector set for massive boom

Published: Aug 25 2021
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North Dakota will pave the way in a sector that is set to have a massive boom in the decade ahead.

Written by: Josh Meny

North Dakota ranks fifth in the nation for electricity generated by renewable energy. The Clean Power Association found that renewable energy powers 30.85% of all in-state electricity.

In the state, renewable energy supports 22-hundred jobs, generates more than $22.5 million in annual state and local tax payments, and $8 billion in total capital investments.

In this week’s KX Ag & Energy Insight we explore how North Dakota is paving the way for a sector set to have a massive boom in the decade ahead.

Wind farm technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the country. It’s estimated to grow by 60.7% between 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

NextEra Energy is the largest producer of wind and solar energy in the world. The company has sixteen active wind farms with just over 900 wind turbines in North Dakota, generating more than 1,600 megawatts.

NextEra has a total of $3 billion dollars in assets, $3.4 million in annual tax dollars, and $6.8 million annually going to landowners in North Dakota.

NextEra Regional Wind Site Manager Chase Dauenhauer grew up on a farm in Baldwin just north of Bismarck.

“Working on simple things with a wrench. You know those farm boys that have the ability to operate a wrench or take apart a hydraulic cylinder on a tractor. Work on a three-point, that’s really the mechanical side of a wind turbine,” explained Dauenhauer.

After attending Saint Mary’s Central High School, Dauenhauer went to Bismarck State College. In 2007, right out of college Dauenhauer landed a wind technician job with NextEra in North Dakota. Working for NextEra, Dauenhauer was able to work on wind farms across the country, but eventually made his way back to North Dakota.

“A wind technician position is definitely a long-term career. It’s not just being a mechanic or being an electrician. You know today I may be that electrician or that mechanic. Tomorrow I may be an inventory technician. I may be growing my skills in business. Right, I may be working on leadership growth and advancement to pursue a leadership role,” explained Dauenhauer.

Dauenhaur is now NextEra’s Regional Wind Site Manager and lives in Bismarck with his wife and five children. Dauenhaur said that living in Bismarck is conducive to his career because of its close proximity to wind farms across the region.

We visited with Daunhaur at the Oliver III Wind Farm in Morton County. It has 48 turbines and produces about 100 megawatts. Dauenhauer tells KX that NextEra is constantly looking to advance new projects in North Dakota.

In Williams County in the Tioga area, Enel Green Power operates the 150 megawatt Lindahl Wind Farm and the recently launched 299 megawatt Aurora Wind Farm. Aurora has turbines crossing into Mountrail County.

At peak of construction, the Lindahl project generated 220 jobs. Between both Lindahl and Aurora, there are 26 full-time employees.

Lindahl Wind Farm Assistant Site Supervisor John Cribbs is from the Texas Panhandle. He was working in aviation and wanted a job with steadier pay. Cribbs told KX that he decided to pursue a career in wind energy back in 2015 when he saw massive numbers of turbines being erected around him in the Panhandle.

“It’s exciting! The technology really advances fast. Like within the six years I have been in the wind industry. The biggest wind turbine at that time was pushing 5 -6 Mega Watts. Now, just last year they came up with a turbine that can push out 15 Mega Watts just by itself,” explained John Cribbs.

Enel is planning a new wind farm in northeast Tiogo, and Cribbs says renewables are only going up in North Dakota.

“The main thing is we need to really modernize and upgrade our transmission systems here, and add in some battery storage, to help keep the grid resilient,” said Cribbs.

A husband and father of two in Minot, Cribbs is invested in building and maintaining wind power in North Dakota.

“I don’t see myself going anywhere, and I don’t see the renewables going anywhere anytime soon. I really believe in what we do here, and we are making a difference, I actually really do feel that I’m making a part of that difference as well as my company,” said Cribbs.

Private landowners got together to develop the original Lindahl Wind Farm, and Enels wind farms will generate $50 million dollars in payments to landowners during their lifespan.

The bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill that just passed in the Senate will invest $73 billion into clean energy transmission in America. It will upgrade the country’s power infrastructure by building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy. It will also create a new Grid Deployment Authority to research and development advanced transmission and electricity distribution technologies.

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