North Dakota Public Grain Storage Capacity Continues to Increase

Licensed grain storage in North Dakota has increased more than 5 percent from approximately 427 million bushels of capacity in 2014 to 451 million bushels currently, according to the North Dakota Public Service Commission. This does not include private, on-farm grain storage which is not tracked by the PSC.

“These statistics show both a remarkable capital investment by the grain industry and an amazing increase in the productivity of our farmers,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “These people are doing an incredible job of bringing food, fuel and fiber to people all over the world.”

The Commission licenses 381 grain warehouses and 76 roving grain buyers. North Dakota licensed public grain warehouses average 1,182,900 bushels of storage capacity, more than double the average capacity in 2000. One hundred years ago the state had more than 2,000 licensed elevators, averaging only 30,000 bushels of capacity for a total licensed capacity of approximately 60 million bushels.

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.

Letter: Enlightened regulation in practical North Dakota

By Vern Jacobson from Bottineau, N.D.

I want to say thank you to North Dakota officials, including Gov. Jack Dalrymple, members of the Industrial Commission and of the Public Service Commission for the progress we’ve made in improving safety of oil pipelines. Their idea for creating a state-run pipeline integrity program is a good one, and they have requested additional funding to add pipeline inspectors and enhance railroad track inspections, as well.

The state has also permitted three new pipelines that will allow us to take all the oil we currently ship by rail and move it via pipelines. Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota and President Barack Obama should encourage additional pipeline construction, rather than obstructing it, because it solves the railroad safety and congestion problem that they like to blame us for.

Let’s not forget that North Dakota has done a good job addressing issues while promoting safe, effective rules that protect the public with sensible regulation that doesn’t cripple the oil industry.

In only seven years, our state has put into place some of the most effective rules in the country. We were first to require casing to have five layers of steel and concrete that protects our water sources from leaks. We have stringent cleanup rules that don’t stop progress, but require that accidents be cleaned and the land returned to agriculture.

During the legislative session, we have continued this progress. State-run safety and pipeline integrity programs are a more effective solution than options the federal government has provided. Heavy-handed, top-down government simply does not work. Officials here in North Dakota have put a much better process in place.

As printed in the Fargo Forum on April 13, 2015.

PSC Approves More Than $2.7 Billion in Energy Infrastructure Projects for 2014

The North Dakota Public Service Commission evaluated and approved more than $2.7 billion worth of siting applications for energy-related infrastructure projects in North Dakota during calendar year 2014. These projects included gas-fired generation stations, two gas processing plant expansions, several electric transmission lines, three pipelines totaling more than 350 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.

“Citizens of North Dakota have been very helpful by providing great comments at our many public hearings, which have helped us to assure that these projects are built as safe as possible while minimizing the amount of disruption,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “Although the Commission’s workload has grown exponentially, we are still able to process cases quickly and fairly.”

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.

LETTER: N.D. Public Service Commission does good work

By Jordan Selinger from Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS — I recently attended the Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline public hearing in Grand Forks. I was impressed with the openness and thoroughness of the process.

The members of the North Dakota Public Service Commission asked questions about the safety of the pipeline, environmental concerns, construction, monitoring and disaster response. They discussed in detail the crossing of the Red River.

In addition, the commissioner heard several hours of public comment from individuals and groups, both in favor and opposed to the project. With recent concerns throughout the nation regarding pipeline safety, it was encouraging to hear the commissioners focus on the safety of the proposed pipeline.

As a law student who cares about fairness and order, I was encouraged by seeing the commission in action. As a young adult, I know that the commission’s decisions will have a major impact on my future.

It’s nice to see serious concerns voiced and considered in hearings such as this.

I trust the commissioners to make the right decision to ensure that and my fellow young North Dakotans and I have a state to be proud of.

Many thanks to Commissioner Julie Fedorchak — who heads up the pipeline-siting formula — as well as commissioners Brian Kalk and Randy Christmann for their efforts to make sure the public had a voice in siting this important project.

(As printed in the Grand Forks Herald on March 17, 2014.)

PSC Opposes Proposed EPA Regulations on Carbon Emissions

The North Dakota Public Service Commission today expressed opposition to the EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions. The Commission says the rules threaten to increase costs of electricity and decrease reliability, adversely impacting North Dakota citizens, utility customers, industries and the state’s economy.

“Carbon Capture and Storage is not commercially available and is not a proven technology,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann. “We need to move these changes at the speed of science, not at the speed of bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C.”

The EPA did not hold any listening sessions in North Dakota regarding these issues. In response, the PSC held a symposium in January at the State Capitol. Officials from EPA and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) participated, along with electric utilities and representatives from the coal industry.

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.” 

PSC Approves Over One Billion Dollars in Energy Infrastructure Projects For 2013

The North Dakota Public Service Commission evaluated and approved more than $1 billion worth of siting applications for energy-related infrastructure projects in North Dakota during calendar year 2013. These projects included a gas-fired generation station, several electric transmission lines, eight pipelines totaling nearly 100 miles and three wind farms.

The siting process requires a very thorough review and evaluation of the project. Once applications were deemed complete the average processing time was only about 60 days.

“This infrastructure development is giving long-term strength to our economy and making the state a safer and more pleasant place to live,” said Commissioner Randy Christmann.