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Published February 03, 2012, 12:00 AM

ENERGY: Empower North Dakota developing cohesive energy program

Empower North Dakota has taken a diverse group of energy players and developed a cohesive energy program to develop all of North Dakota’s energy resources.

By: Alan Van Ormer, Prairie Business Magazine

"Nowhere else do all of these different parties come together to make recommendations to our legislative leaders,” states Al Anderson, director of the Department of Commerce in Bismarck, N. D. “We have a good track record of getting our recommendations put into law. There are challenges of all the different viewpoints, but we get to the point we can agree to empower North Dakota to develop all energy sources.”

Empower North Dakota has been in place since 2007. Two key goals are doubling energy production by 2025 and providing for a fair and responsible regulatory environment that promotes energy development.

Since the program started five years ago, wind energy production has increased to more than 1,400 megawatts, which places the state 10th in the nation. In addition, North Dakota produces the eighth most ethanol, is first in blender pumps across the United States, and fourth in oil production. Also, North Dakota is tops in lignite coal reserves. An estimated 70 percent of the energy is shipped out of North Dakota.

“Overall, North Dakota has increased its exports dramatically,” Anderson notes. “Since 2000 we have increased all of our exports by over 300 percent. We’re trying to supply the needs of the nation as much as we can with all of our natural resources.”

Among the accomplishments the group has made:

* Since 2001, the state has promoted an energy policy that includes a broad range of energy development – conventional and renewable.

* The Commission structure brings together energy industry representatives enabling them to share information and discuss issues of concern. In addition to encouraging inter-industry cooperation, this has been helpful to the legislature and the administration.

* Wind energy development tax incentives, property tax reduction and sales and use tax exemption, helped grow the industry from minimal production to more than 1,400 megawatts.

* As a result of Commission discussions, energy policy is based upon incentives rather than mandates, resulting in recognition by the industry that state government is responsive to their recommendations.

* Creation of the North Dakota Transmission Authority and Pipeline Authority, both of which are significant for development of infrastructure.

Challenges that exist with oil and gas are similar and shared by all the energy producers. Four key areas that the group has identified are: workforce (all have that challenge to find skills,); regulation; infrastructure (in particular, housing, roads in western North Dakota, transmission lines and pipelines to export more of those products); and research and development.

Anderson believes the remainder of the nation can learn from what is happening in North Dakota because Empower North Dakota invites everyone to the table. “We’re looking at what’s best for the state, but also what’s best for the nation as a whole,” he says.

“The biggest challenge in any kind of investment is the uncertainty,” Anderson states. “The more certainty we can get in having an overall comprehensive policy set, the better it is for companies to invest their dollars. They know what the playing field is like and the ground rules.”

Anderson notes that the state’s role is to create an environment that allows the private sector to create jobs.