News Column

Lawmakers to receive advice on investments

August 13, 2014

By Nick Smith, The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.

Aug. 13--Lawmakers will receive a pair of reports Thursday recommending investments in research and education to enhance energy production and improve statewide infrastructure.

Members of the EmPower North Dakota Commission said the policy recommendations in their 2014 report could play a major part in keeping the state's economy humming if enacted.

"I believe it's an important piece of the puzzle," commission member Mark Nisbet said. "The whole state is benefiting. We need to make sure the infrastructure is able to handle the growth while not (negatively) impacting the citizens."

Nisbet works with wind projects for Xcel Energy and is one of 16 members on the commission consisting of industry officials.

The EmPower North Dakota initiative was launched in the early 2000s with the goal of bringing stakeholders in the fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors together. Its purpose was to develop a state energy policy focusing on various energy sectors working together rather than competing.

Nisbet said the data and recommendations for the study have come together over the past six months.

"We think the building blocks are in here," Nisbet said.

One of the study's recommendations is to pass an infrastructure funding bill within the first 30 days of the 2015 legislative session for oil-impacted counties. The idea would be to bid out major road projects early in the year to maximize the construction season.

In early 2013 lawmakers passed a $720 million road maintenance bill with the same idea in mind.

Nisbet said an interesting concept is the idea of creating a regional infrastructure authority. This authority would be set up in order to help guide development in oil patch hub cities as well as the four major oil-producing counties: Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams. Overseeing it would be a designated person within a state agency.

"It's a fairly new idea that would have to be vetted by the Legislature," Nisbet said.

Nisbet said recommendations on continuing to fund and even increase dollars for research, development and workforce training is important to consider.

"We're enjoying a very strong and robust economy. Let's invest in our future," Nisbet said.

Mike Fladeland, manager of energy business development for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said a value-added market opportunities study also will be presented.

The study, authorized by the Legislature, looked at the feasibility of pursuing value-added marketing of renewable energy such as ethanol as well as natural gas liquids. It was released in May.

Fladeland said IHS Chemical was hired last year to conduct the study and the results appeared promising.

"Rather than send these products out of state, figure out ... how we could get into a niche market for them (here)," Fladeland said.

He said additional jobs and wealth could be created in North Dakota if facilities were built to process NGLs or ethanol.

He said the study points out that the challenges of expanding into the markets are the cost and need for a skilled workforce.

The studies can be found at


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Source: Bismarck Tribune (ND)

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