Our choices for North Dakota attorney general, secretary of state, ag post, PSC, Supreme Court

by Forum Editorial Board

North Dakota state government is well managed and its statewide officeholders reflect the views of residents, who prefer a government that is responsive but not intrusive. The slate of candidates up for reelection is a roster of experienced, steady hands at the wheel who deserve to stay on the job.

So we endorse Wayne Stenehjem to remain attorney general, Al Jaeger to remain secretary of state, Doug Goehring to remain agriculture commissioner and the two incumbents on the Public Service Commission, Randy Christmann and Brian Kroshus, to continue in those roles. Voters also should elect Justice Lisa Fair McEvers to stay on the North Dakota Supreme Court.

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Christmann, who was elected to the Public Service Commission in 2012, serves as chairman of the group, which regulates utilities and has an important role in overseeing energy development in the state. Before he was elected to the PSC, Christmann, a Republican, served in the North Dakota Senate and once served as a legislative appointee to the Lignite Research Council. He operates a 107-year-old, third generation cattle ranch west of Hazen.

Read the full editorial here.

PSC Receives Praise in Federal Evaluation of Coal Reclamation Programs

In an evaluation conducted by the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) the Public Service Commission’s Coal Regulatory Program and their Abandoned Mine Lands Program both received high praise.  OSM said the PSC “has effective and efficient coal regulatory and AML programs.”

According to Commission Chairman Randy Christmann, who holds the portfolios for these programs, “The complimentary language in these reviews emphasizes the outstanding work our AML and Reclamation teams do throughout the year.  Their efforts are assuring that North Dakota’s landscape will be safe, productive, and beautiful for future generations.”

The AML Program works to eliminate hazards from coal mine activity which occurred prior to 1977 reclamation laws.  PSC staff design and manage the projects which are completed by contractors.  Since 1982, 164 primary projects have been completed, in addition to 32 emergency projects.  The OSM evaluation found that the PSC “administers an excellent program in full compliance with their approved plan … The NDPSC continues to administer an efficient and successful AML Program.  These projects have reduced the likelihood of death or injury to property owners and the public.”

The Reclamation Program oversees six surface mining operations.  Over 132,000 acres are currently permitted for mining.  Of that total, over 81,000 acres have been disturbed and over 56,000 acres have been backfilled, top-soiled, and seeded.  The OSM evaluation found that “The NDPSC staff continue to implement the program in a professional, cooperative, and fair manner.  The division uses new technology to become more efficient and make information more readily available to the public.”

PSC orders MDU electric rate reduction, adjusts other rates

Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. electric customers will see refunds and reduced rates from the utility’s federal tax cut benefits.

In January, the North Dakota Public Service Commission ordered the company to report savings from its reduced federal income tax rate. As a result, it was determined MDU should return $8.5 million annually to customers, Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said.

After some discussion, the commissioners unanimously voted to amend the original proposal, which would have allowed the company to keep $300,000, to instead give the full value of the tax credit to ratepayers.

Commissioner Randy Christmann said he insisted the tax benefit be passed on.

“Today is the fulfillment of that effort,” he said.

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MDU electric customers could see lower rates, one-time bill credit

That bill reduced corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent. And in a settlement with PSC staff, MDU is planning to reduce rates by about $5 a month on average for a residential customer using 980 kilowatt hours of electricity. That would take effect October first. In addition, MDU will give customers a one-time bill credit for rates charged after the tax bill became law, and before the new rates kick in. MDU says that would be around $28 for the average residential customer.

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Public Service Commission Approves Wind Farm Decommissioning Plans

Public Service Commission Approves Wind Farm Decommissioning Plans

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has approved the first set of wind farm decommissioning plans following new rule changes approved in 2017.

The Commission has overseen reclamation of coal mining in North Dakota since 1970 and used that experience in developing the new rules.  The rules ensure that wind farms are removed and the land reclaimed when operations cease.  With wind generation expanding in the state and the projects growing in size, the PSC has expressed concern about the potential for abandoned projects in the future.

According to Commission Chairman Randy Christmann, “A half century ago our ancestors made a commitment to ensure our coal mines would be reclaimed when the prairie became quiet again.  These decommissioning rules demonstrate a renewed commitment by our generation to ensure that North Dakota’s beautiful landscape will be returned to its splendor when these giant wind turbines reach the end of their useful lives.”

The new rules were approved by the PSC in May of 2017, effective July 1, 2017.  The Commission requested that existing facilities submit plans by July 1, 2018.  Projects sited before July 1, 2017 must submit financial assurances for decommissioning after their tenth year of operation.  Projects sited after July 1, 2017 must submit financial assurances before commencing construction.