Public Service Commission Observes National Weights and Measures Week

The North Dakota Public Service Commission is observing National Weights and Measures Week March 1-7 to commemorate John Adams signing the first United States weights and measures law on March 2, 1799. The goal is to educate people about the program which ensures weighing and measuring devices being used for commercial purposes are accurate.

Government weights and measures programs protect both the buyer and the seller from inaccurate devices. Inspectors use extremely accurate equipment to inspect scales, meters, scanning equipment and packaged products at supermarkets, discount and department stores, grain elevators, livestock sales rings and gasoline stations.

“North Dakota is committed to making sure commercial transactions are equitable transactions between business operators and consumers,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann, who holds the Weights and Measures portfolio for the Commission. “This is accomplished cooperatively between state inspectors and licensed private inspectors who work every day to protect consumers in North Dakota.”

North Dakota’s Weights and Measures program also monitors and tests private, commercial testers of measuring devices to assure their accuracy.

Weights and measures programs are in place to protect consumers and assure fair and equitable transactions between customers and businesses. When inspectors discover violations, they take enforcement actions against the operator of the measuring device which may include ordering that it not be used until it is fixed or possible penalties prescribed by law.

PSC Approves More Than $2 Billion in Energy Infrastructure Projects for 2015

The North Dakota Public Service Commission evaluated and approved nearly $2.1 billion worth of siting applications for energy-related infrastructure projects in North Dakota during calendar year 2015. These projects included gas-fired generation stations, two gas processing plant expansions, two electric transmission lines, pipelines totaling nearly 500 miles and two wind farms. 

The siting process requires a very thorough review and evaluation of the project. Once applications were deemed complete hearings were held to gather public input. 

“These are the projects that will make our energy systems safer, more efficient, and less of a burden for the general public,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann.

Christmann Tells Bureau of Land Management that Difficult Process for Obtaining Federal Coal Leases is Costing American Taxpayers

Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann testified at a Bureau of Land Management listening session in Billings, Montana on Tuesday about the terrible consequences of the long and expensive process for leasing federal coal reserves. The listening sessions are being held to determine how the BLM can best carry out its legal responsibility to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return on the minerals managed by the federal government. 

“There is at least one example in North Dakota of a company mining around a BLM coal tract because they have not been able to get the federal lease in a timely manner,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “In this case, the surface will be disturbed when the surrounding coal is mined, but the BLM coal will be left behind and will never be feasible for mining again. It is an opportunity that is lost forever and the local, state and federal governments all lose that revenue.”  

Christmann went on to add that other BLM coal tracts in North Dakota are also under consideration for bypassing because of the same difficulties with acquiring leases. “The rate of return, if the coal is not mined, is zero and that is not fair to American taxpayers and it is becoming a serious problem in North Dakota,” said Christmann.

In North Dakota, there are 134,350 acres currently permitted for coal mining. 17,750 of those acres contain federal coal. The surface interests above the federal coal reserves are privately owned.

Permit Approved for New Mercer County Coal Mine

The North Dakota Public Service Commission today approved the first major new mine permitted since the 1970s. The new Coyote Creek Mine will be located about 10 miles southwest of Beulah.

“Despite the EPA’s war on this resource, coal is the cornerstone of an electric system that is both affordable and dependable,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “This long-term commitment will help our electric system and our economy in general for the next several decades.”

The permit covers nearly 8100 acres and is scheduled to begin delivering coal to the Coyote Power Station operated by Otter Tail Power in May 2016. Construction at the mine’s shop and office site began earlier this year following the Commission’s approval of a separate permit in March. The average annual coal production is expected to be about 2.5 million tons per year, and mining operations are expected to continue until 2040.

The permit review process involved hundreds of hours of PSC staff time and consultation with experts on soils, rangelands, woodlands, hydrology and other technical areas.

PSC Permits New Basin Electric Transmission Line

The North Dakota Public Service Commission today approved a siting permit for a new 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line. The Basin Electric Power Cooperative project will run from the Antelope Valley Station near Beulah to a substation near Tioga. The 197 mile line traverses Mercer, Dunn, McKenzie, Williams and Mountrail Counties. The estimated cost of the project is $375 million.   

“We know that the availability of power in western North Dakota is inadequate. This project will literally be a life preserver for that region, keeping lights, furnaces and air conditioners running when needed,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “But as vital as this project is, we need to remember it is just a life jacket. The real rescue ship will be the construction of dependable baseload power generation and our energy industry needs to step up efforts to make that a reality.” 

Basin Electric has experienced 55 percent load growth in northwest North Dakota since 2011 and forecasts continued growth of 6 percent per year. By 2016 the load is projected to exceed capacity of the system.

Commissioners and staff traveled to Killdeer, Tioga and Williston for public hearings for this project. Community leaders and citizens were able to learn more about the project and offer public comments.

PSC Coal Regulatory and Abandoned Mine Programs Receive High Marks

The federal Office of Surface Mining recently released its annual evaluations of the Public Service Commission’s coal regulatory program and the abandoned mine lands program. These evaluations are done annually to assure that the programs are being implemented consistent with the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977.

Regarding the coal regulatory program for current mining operations, the evaluation indicated that “North Dakota has an effective program with no issues that need corrective action. NDPSC staff continues to implement the program in a professional, cooperative, and fair manner and have the necessary technical expertise for carrying out its functions to ensure that all of the requirements of SMCRA are met. NDPSC does an appropriate job of collecting and tracking the data necessary to accurately track and assess reclamation success as well as the contemporaneous nature of that reclamation.” 

Commissioner Randy Christmann, who holds the coal reclamation and abandoned mines portfolio, said, “We are very pleased to report that OSM’s review found that the PSC continues to administer efficient and successful coal regulatory and abandoned mine lands reclamation programs.”  

The latest federal review did not raise any concerns or issues with either program.   

The PSC’s abandoned mine reclamation program aims to eliminate hazards related to coal mining that was conducted before the enactment of reclamation laws in the 1970’s. The program is funded by a fee that is collected on all active coal mining operations. PSC staff designs and manages projects each year and contracts the work through a competitive bidding process.

Christmann said, “OSM found that the PSC maintains a very cost-effective abandoned mine reclamation program with only about 11 percent of the grant amount being used for administrative costs.”