North Dakota

The wind energy industry has already created more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in North Dakota

With its cold winters and energy-intensive industrial economy, North Dakota consumes more energy per person than most other states in the nation. Each year, North Dakotans shell out $4.47 billion on petroleum products, natural gas and coal– an average of nearly $6,700 per person.[1], [2] While the state produces much of its own coal, as well as some natural gas and oil, the majority of that money leaves the state.

However, North Dakota’s vast areas of fertile land, strong, steady winds, and a stable and productive workforce give the state potential to become a national leader in producing clean energy. North Dakota is already a major wind producer, generating 12 percent of its energy from wind in 2010.[3]

Wind Energy


North Dakota could produce more energy from wind than all the fossil-fuel power plants in the United States put together

North Dakota has the sixth largest wind resource in the country, according to the American Wind Energy Association.[4] The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) showed that the state has a theoretical potential, after subtracting land that is unsuitable for energy development, such as protected natural areas and parks, totaling 770,000 megawatts (MW)[5] -- more capacity than all the fossil-fueled power plants in the United States combined.[6] Despite its enormous potential, however, North Dakota ranks 9th in wind energy development, with an existing wind capacity of 1,424MW. Today, the state’s wind energy powers the equivalent of 420,000 homes.[7]

Every county in North Dakota has areas suitable for the commercial production of wind energy. Currently only 13 counties have wind developments in place. An additional 11,000 megawatts of wind power are in various stages of planning and development in North Dakota.

The wind energy industry has already created more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in the state. DMI Industries, a turbine tower manufacturer employing 500 people, has a plant in West Fargo. Another company, LM Glasfiber, produces turbine blades in Grand Forks.[8] Because of its location in the heart of the "wind belt" and its reliable workforce, North Dakota is well situated to see more of such job creation.

The state's extraordinary wind development opportunity is evidenced by Google's recent decision to make North Dakota wind farms the target of its first large investment in commercial-scale clean energy. The company put nearly $39 million into two North Dakota windfarms run by NextEra Energy.[9]

Biomass Energy and Cellulosic Ethanol

North Dakota could produce enough home-grown cellulosic ethanol to replace all the gasoline used annually in the state -- and more

North Dakota is the nation’s top producer of wheat, as well as 15 other agricultural commodities. The residues from many of these crops -- such as wheat straw and other plant parts that are not used as food -- could potentially be used in renewable energy production.[10] Taking into consideration the portion of crop residue left in the field to maintain soil productivity, and after subtracting wood waste that is already productively used, NREL has calculated that North Dakota produces 6.6 million dry tons of crop residues annually, plus 100,000 tons of usable wood residues.[11] Altogether, North Dakota produces 6.7 million tons of usable biomass each year, without including any new dedicated energy crops.

What can North Dakotans do with 6.7 million tons of biomass? It could be turned into 470 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol,[12] equivalent to 125 percent of all the gasoline used annually in the state.[13] Burned in power plants, it would generate more than 5 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, which is one-sixth of North Dakota's annual electricity production.[14] Replacing that much fossil fuel with clean energy would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 4.1 million tons, equivalent to removing 875,000 cars from North Dakota's roads.[15]

Sustainably harvesting that farm and forest residue to produce energy could also generate significant revenue. Researchers estimate the future value of crop residue biomass is about $30 to $50 per ton,[16] so the gross revenue to be derived from these materials could be as much as $335 million. Assuming a price of $40 per ton and a usable yield of at least 0.6 dry ton of usable residue per acre, this comes to more than $16,000 in potential annual gross revenue for the crop residue from an average North Dakota wheat farm.[17]

Dakota Spirit AgEnergy has proposed building a hybrid biomass refinery near Spiritwood, comprising a 50 million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant and an 8-million-gallon cellulosic ethanol plant. The refinery would use corn, wheat straw and corn stover to produce biofuels and other products.[18]

Biogas Energy

Cows grazing in a field

North Dakota is a sizable livestock producer, ranking 16th in the United States in cattle and 24th in swine.[19] According to NREL, North Dakota has manure management systems producing more than 4,000 tons of methane per year, but this methane is not being captured and used.[20] If all these emissions were converted into energy, livestock manure could generate about 14,000 MWh of energy annually.[21] At the average commercial retail electricity rate in North Dakota of 6.79 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), this would yield more than $1 million worth of homegrown power each year.[22]

Solar Energy

green leaves

Long summer days in North Dakota provide greater solar electricity potential than places like Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas

North Dakota’s relatively dry climate, particularly in the western part of the state, gives it more sunlight than any other state on the Canadian border. Its long summer days provide greater solar electricity potential than places like Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas.[23] Most of North Dakota has an average solar energy density of 4to 5 kWh per square meter per day, enough sunlight to derive significant amounts of energy.[24] However, there are currently very few solar installations in North Dakota. The Energy Information Administration reports shipments of photovoltaic cells to North Dakota totaling only 31kilowatts in 2008 and 2009, and 3,622 square feet of solar thermal collectors in the same period.[25]

Solar energy is a cost-effective solution for farmers and ranchers looking to power remote pasture wells, which are primarily used in the dry summer months. Verendrye Electric Cooperative is installing hundreds of solar arrays at remote stockwells in the six-county area it serves around Minot. For farmers, the $800 solar panels are far more cost-effective than paying to extend power lines, which can cost as much as $15,000 per mile.[26]

Renewable Energy Meets Wildland and Wildlife Conservation

Certain sensitive lands -- such as parks, monuments and wildlife conservation areas -- and ecologically sensitive marine areas are not appropriate for energy development. In some of these places, energy development is prohibited or limited by law or policy, and in others it would be highly controversial. NRDC does not endorse locating energy facilities or transmission lines in such areas. Siting decisions must always be made extremely carefully, with impacts mitigated and operations conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

For more information on the intersection between clean energy development and wildland and wildlife conservation in the American West, including locations of parks, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas, see this Google Earth-based feature.


Economic Incentives for Renewable Energy Projects in North Dakota

The North Dakota Renewable Energy Program offers several grants for eligible renewable system types.

The North Dakota State Government offers tax incentives for corporate entities acquiring a biomass, geothermal, solar, or wind energy generating system in a building or on property owned or leased in North Dakota.

Another resource is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency that lists federal, state and local government incentives for renewable energy projects in North Dakota.

Wind Energy

The state offers a generous wind property tax reduction of 70 to 85 percent.

Also wind monitoring grants to economic development authorities are available through the North Dakota Department of Commerce.


  1. [1]
  2. [2] -- Estimate extrapolated from EIA data showing coal costs of $686million, petroleum costs of $3.4billion, and $383million of natural gas, using estimated 2009 population of 646,844.
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5] See table linked to
  6. [6]
  7. [7]
  8. [8] ibid.
  9. [9]
  10. [10]; by_State/North_Dakota/Publications/Top_Commodities/pub/rank10.pdf. [These leading North Dakota crops include barley, navy beans, pinto beans, canola, flaxseed, honey, lentils, peas, sunflowers, and wheat. North Dakota is also a major producer of oats, sugar beets, corn, and hay.]
  11. [11] For calculations of actual usable portion of crop residues, see:
  12. [12] Various studies have estimated cellulosic ethanol yields of up to 110 gal./dry ton; the number used here assumes no increase in the current yield of about 70 gal./ton.
  13. [13] Based on Federal Highway Administration statistics; see:
  14. [14] Estimate based on 6.7 million tons of biomass at a conservative 4,300 Btu/lb., or about 2/3 the energy by weight of lignite; see North Dakota's electricity generation in 2008 = 32,734,579 MWh; see:
  15. [15] Assuming 19.4 pounds of carbon per gallon (see: and typical average gas usage of 536 gallons per vehicle per year.
  16. [16] This value will depend on many variables. See reports of the multiagency Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI),; also Also see:
  17. [17] 0.6 ton/acre x $40/ton x 685 acres (8.43 million acres of wheat/12,300 farms in 2007) = $16,440
  18. [18]
  19. [19]
  20. [20] See:, p. 17;
  21. [21] Extrapolated from
  22. [22] See:
  23. [23]
  24. [24]
  25. [25], also
  26. [26];
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