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Or, what can Senator Heidi Heitkamp do for energy on the Agriculture Committee?

Senator Heidi Heitkamp finds herself in an excellent position with regard to the creation of a new energy economy.  Any senator from a Midwestern state can meaningfully direct important energy legislation – wind power policy, transmission line policy, oil and gas fracking policy, coal policy.

North Dakota currently generates almost 15% of its electricity from wind power.  The state ranks second in the nation in installed wind power per capita with more than 2 kilowatts per person (PDF).  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average North Dakota residential customer consumes 13,764 kilowatt hoursof electricity per year.  This means each North Dakota residents gets about 1/3 of their electricity from clean wind (of course the large power requirements of commercial and industrial customers reduces the state average to 15%).  In 2011, the wind industry contributed more than 1,000 manufacturing and construction jobs, $4 million annually in local property tax payments and an additional $4 million annually in lease payments to landowners with wind farms on their property.  These numbers grow with each new North Dakota wind farm.

Likewise, North Dakota sits on top of a significant amount of oil and natural gas.  The state is currently the #2 producer of oil in the country, behind only Texas.  The Bakken formation in the western part of North Dakota has produced thousands of new direct and indirect jobs in one of the most remote parts of the country.  The location therefore requires extensive pipeline infrastructure to be built, in addition to rigorous environmental protection standards established and enforced to protect the land and growing communities.  As board member of Dakota Gasification Company, a natural gas manufacturer, as well as a former attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency and state Attorney General, Senator Heitkamp is ideally suited to speak credibly with all sides of energy policy debates.

So where does the Agriculture Committee fit into this equation?  The 2012 Senate-passed farm bill (PDF)included an extension of the Rural Energy for America Program, which supports renewable energy development and energy efficiency programs.  In previous Congresses, the Senate committee also included amendments to farm bill renewals limiting the use of eminent domain with regard to the siting of transmission lines, primarily intended to carry electricity generated on large wind farms.  This may surface again in the 2013 farm bill negotiations and Senator Heitkamp can serve to remind colleagues about the critical importance and economic value of appropriately sited transmission lines.  

As a new Senator with extensive experience in both clean and fossil fuels, Senator Heitkamp has the ability to work closely with colleagues from both sides of the aisle interested in securing a new energy future for the United States.  Republican Senators Roberts and Moran both supported extension of the wind production tax credit from a state, Kansas, with similar energy and agriculture environments as North Dakota.  Combined with the established advocates for greater clean power growth, the Senate should have a new advocate for a better energy future for the United States.

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