North Dakota


North Dakota has substantial fossil fuel and renewable energy resources. The state is the second largest crude oil producer in the nation and has significant lignite coal reserves. Located at the geographic center of North America, North Dakota has a continental climate characterized by large temperature variations, irregular precipitation, plentiful sunshine, low humidity, and nearly continuous wind. North Dakota’s rolling plains slope gently upward to the west toward the Rocky Mountains, allowing winds to move unobstructed across the state. The winds and North Dakota’s abundant sunshine are renewable resources that are contributing increasing shares of the state’s electricity generation. Two major rivers, the Missouri River and the Red River, and their tributaries, flow through North Dakota. Hydropower has been harnessed by a large federal hydroelectric project on the Missouri River, and the Red River Valley is noted for its highly productive soils. The state’s abundant farmland produces many crops, including the corn for North Dakota’s ethanol production. The state is among the top ethanol-producers in the nation.

Although North Dakota has one of the smallest populations in the United States, it experienced one of the largest percentage increases in population between 2010 and 2016, primarily because of the state’s recent oil boom. Total energy consumption in North Dakota ranks among the lowest in the nation; however, consumption per capita and per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) rank among the highest because of the state’s energy-intensive industrial sector and the high heating demand during North Dakota’s very cold winters. The industrial sector accounts for more than half of end-use energy consumption in the state. Mining, including the energy-intensive oil and gas industry, is a key industry in North Dakota and a major contributor to the state’s GDP, along with agriculture and renewable energy. The transportation sector uses less than half as much energy as the industrial sector and accounts for almost one-fourth of end-use energy consumption in the state.

North Dakota’s total energy production is about five times greater than its consumption. The surge in production over the past few years has come from the development of the state’s petroleum resources. More than two-thirds of North Dakota’s total energy production is in the form of crude oil. Coal and natural gas provide one-fourth of the state’s total energy production, and renewable energy, including the rapidly developing wind sector, provides the remainder.

Renewable Energy

Quick Facts

  • In 2015, North Dakota was the second largest crude oil-producing state in the nation and accounted for 12.5% of total U.S. crude oil production, including oil produced in federal offshore areas.
  • In 2015, North Dakota had 5.3% of the nation’s recoverable coal reserves at producing mines and accounted for 3.2% of U.S. coal production.
  • North Dakota’s total energy consumption is among the lowest in the nation as a result of its small population, but the state’s consumption per capita ranks among the highest, in part because of the energy-intensive industrial sector and high heating demand in winter.
  • In 2016, about 71% of North Dakota’s net electricity generation came from coal, 21.5% came from wind energy, and about 5% came from conventional hydroelectric power.
  • North Dakota has abundant wind resources and ranked 9th in the nation in wind energy potential,10th in utility-scale generation, and 11th in installed capacity in 2016.

North Dakota is among the top states in the share of electricity generation provided by wind energy.

North Dakota has abundant renewable resources, especially wind energy. With average wind speeds ranging from 10 miles per hour to 13 miles per hour depending on location, the air is seldom calm in the state. North Dakota ranks fifth in the nation in the share of electricity generation provided by wind energy and has seen a rapid gain in wind-powered electricity generation in the past year. The state has more than 2,700 megawatts of installed wind capacity after adding 603 megawatts of capacity in 2016. North Dakota still has substantial undeveloped wind energy potential.

North Dakota is one of the top 10 ethanol-producing states in the nation. The combined capacity of the state’s five ethanol plants is about 470 million gallons of ethanol per year, and all of its plants use corn as feedstock. North Dakota is also among the top 10 states in biodiesel production capacity. The state’s only biodiesel refinery has a capacity of 85 million gallons per year and uses canola oil as feedstock.

North Dakota’s fifth largest power plant is at the Garrison Dam, northwest of Bismarck. Construction of the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River in the 1950s significantly reduced the extent of serious flooding in the state while supplying abundant hydroelectric power. It is North Dakota’s only hydroelectric plant, and it typically contributes 5% to 7% of the state’s net electricity. Renewable resource potential in the state includes geothermal and solar energy as well. The western half of North Dakota has moderately favorable conditions for geothermal development. North Dakota has abundant sunshine, but there is only a limited amount of distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) electricity generation from solar energy in the state. North Dakota’s low cost of electricity and the lack of incentives have been cited as reasons for its slow development.

In March 2007, North Dakota adopted a voluntary renewable- and recycled-energy objective that set a goal for electricity generated from renewable sources to comprise 10% of all retail electricity sold in the state by 2015. The goal applied to all retail providers of electricity. There were no penalties for electricity providers who failed to meet the target. Commission staff have stated that the goal was exceeded. In 2016, more than 21% of the electricity generated in North Dakota came from nonhydroelectric renewable resources. There is no statewide energy efficiency policy in North Dakota.


Coal-fired power plants provide about seven-tenths of North Dakota’s power generation, and 7 of the 10 largest power plants in the state are coal-fired. The rest of the state’s electricity generation comes primarily from wind energy and, to a lesser extent, from hydroelectric power. A small amount of generation is fueled by natural gas. The state does not have any nuclear power plants. About one-ninth of the utility-scale electricity generation in North Dakota comes from independent power producers, all of which is from wind.

Both electricity generation and consumption are low in North Dakota. More electricity is generated in the state than is consumed there, and about half the state’s total electricity supply (which includes some net electricity imports from Canada) is provided to the interstate electricity trade. Two high-voltage direct current lines carry electricity east into Minnesota, and other transmission lines carry electricity to South Dakota and beyond. There are three electricity border crossings on North Dakota’s border with Canada.

The reliability of the North Dakota power industry is overseen by the Midwest Reliability Organization, one of the eight regional entities of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. The Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. operates much of the state’s electricity grid. Rural electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities serve the largest number of North Dakota’s retail customers. Municipal utilities serve most of the rest. A few large customers purchase power directly from the federal Western Area Power Administration. Overall, per capita retail sales of electricity in North Dakota are second only to those of Wyoming. The industrial sector is the leading purchaser, followed by the commercial sector. The residential sector, where two of every five households heat with electricity, accounts for about one-fourth of retail sales.

Natural Gas

Natural gas was discovered in North Dakota as early as 1892, but significant commercial production was not established until 1929, when development of a Montana natural gas field extended into North Dakota. Sporadic development of the state’s natural gas resources took place between the mid-1940s and the early 1980s. Beginning in 2007, production increased rapidly with the development of the state’s shale gas resources. Only about 2% of the nation’s total natural gas reserves and production is in North Dakota.

Several natural gas pipelines cross the state, and the North Dakota Pipeline Authority was created to facilitate the expansion of the state’s pipeline infrastructure to accommodate the increased production. The natural gas produced in North Dakota is rich in natural gas liquids (NGL), and attractive NGL prices have resulted in the development of new natural gas processing facilities and pipelines. Those projects substantially increased natural gas-processing capacity and pipeline access in the region. However, North Dakota natural gas production exceeds pipeline capacity and, because the state has no underground natural gas storage fields, natural gas has been flared (burned) at the wellhead. North Dakota’s Industrial Commission has established targets to decrease the amount of flared natural gas over the next several years.

North Dakota typically accounts for about 0.3% of the nation’s natural gas consumption. Interstate deliveries of natural gas enter North Dakota primarily from Montana and Canada and continue on to South Dakota and Minnesota. More natural gas leaves the state than enters because of the added North Dakota production. Between one-third and two-fifths of the natural gas consumed in North Dakota is used in the production and transportation of natural gas. Of the natural gas delivered to end users, slightly more than half is consumed in the industrial sector. The commercial and residential sectors each use about one-fifth of the natural gas delivered to end users.Two-fifths of North Dakota households use natural gas for home heating. In the past few years, an increasing amount of the natural gas consumed in the state is being used by the electric power sector. In 2015, the electric power sector accounted for 6% of the natural gas delivered to end users in North Dakota.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (Mar 2017)

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