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Controversy Over Wind Turbine Shutdown in Cold Hits North Dakota

American Experiment has documented Minnesota’s vulnerability to reliance on wind turbines in the midst of the polar vortex. As policy fellow Isaac Orr put it, “when the cold got goin’, the wind stopped blowin’.”

Every single Minnesota utility reported their wind turbines did not show up to work during the polar vortex, either due to low wind speeds, or because it got too cold to operate the turbines safely.

This means wind power is literally unable to show up to work when we need it most. Thank goodness we had coal and nuclear power plants available to provide the electricity we needed to keep our furnaces running. Astonishingly, these coal and nuclear plants are the same coal and nuclear plants many DFL lawmakers want to shut down in order to prioritize more wind power.

Now the controversy over the unreliable nature of wind energy has broken out across the border in North Dakota in the pages of the Fargo Forum.

On any given day, the blades of 100 wind turbines that wrap around the central North Dakota town of Courtenay rotate softly over the prairie, generating enough energy to power 105,000 homes.

But when temperatures dropped below negative 20 degrees on Jan. 29, the white towers automatically came to a standstill and ceased to produce electricity. Until the air warmed up beyond that threshold, the turbines remained dormant.

The subzero temperatures exposed a fatal flaw that’s put Xcel Energy on the defensive in both states.

Wind turbines here and elsewhere have software that senses when the air temperature drops below minus 20 and forces them to shut down, said Mark Nisbet of Xcel Energy, which owns the wind farm. It’s an industry standard to protect turbines from damage during extremely cold weather.

Turbines across North Dakota shut down at times in the last week of January due to some of the coldest temperatures the area had seen since the mid-1990s. Wind power levels dropped significantly, more than experts anticipated.

North Dakota politicians took advantage of the blow back to point out the rashness of the Green New Deal proposed by Democrats in Washington.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and others seized on the mid-winter lapse in wind power to criticize the Green New Deal, a policy proposal to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. Cramer called the proposal “a fantasy.”

“What it did in my mind is it exposed a real vulnerability that we’ve often talked about over the years … of intermittent electric generation,” he said of the turbines shutting down.

Yet there’s no evidence the wake-up call has prompted any soul searching by Gov. Walz and DFL legislators. Rather than rethink their reckless proposal for a green new deal in Minnesota, their climate ideology has proven to be even more extreme than the polar vortex that exposed its potentially fatal flaws.

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