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Updated energy policy emphasizes infrastructure

In this March 23 photo, semis drive north on Highway 85 south of Williston. Infrastructure, like roads, was among the chief issues focused on by the EmPower North Dakota Commission as it presented an updated energy policy.

BISMARCK -- An updated version of the state's energy policy emphasizes the need to invest in infrastructure, conduct more research and development, expand energy education and collaborate more with federal regulators.

Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson presented the policy updates and recommendations Thursday to legislators on the Energy Development and Transmission Committee.

The document is the work of a 16-member EmPower North Dakota Commission, which was created in 2007 and includes representatives from the state's energy sectors.

This year's report identified four areas considered critical for continuing to grow energy production and new energy-related industries: infrastructure, research and development, work force and a regulatory environment that encourages economic growth while ensuring environmentally-responsible development.

Under each of those issues, the commission lists recommendations for legislators. These include:

Infrastructure: Revising the state's oil and gas tax formula to allow more money to go directly to the oil cities for roads, wastewater treatment facilities, water supply facilities and other infrastructure

Housing: Expanding funding for the state's housing incentive fund.

Education: Increasing efforts to educate North Dakota students about the state's natural resources and energy industry and providing greater accessibility to career and technical education programs.

Research: Allocating $3 million for a renewable energy research and development program and adding $1 million to the oil and gas research program to explore value-added processing of natural gas.

Regulation: Providing adequate funding and staffing levels for the North Dakota Department of Health, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, North Dakota Public Service Commission and State Water Commission

Anderson said it's unique for the various energy sectors to work together to find common ground. Although reaching that point isn't easy, he said the end result has proven beneficial.

"What we found in the past is, if we can get a consensus with those 16 industries, we can definitely influence the policy that actually goes through the state," Anderson said.

Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, said one thing missing from the report is information related to the state's day care shortage, which she said is a workforce issue.

Anderson said child care was discussed frequently among commission members.

Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, said he was interested in the recommendation to create a viable chemical industry related to energy resources. The commission would like to see a study funded to evaluate value-added market opportunities for energy resources.

"I really agree the opportunity for the state is enormous," Laffen said. "We all understand the value-added agriculture, and it sounds like there's that opportunity in our energy resources as well."

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he's thankful for the commission's work, adding there will be enough "fights (and) debates in our 80-day session coming up.

"Not having you guys fighting with each other makes a whole lot of difference," he said. "You've helped each other advance your energy type, whatever it may be, and that's appreciated."

Wardner, the legislative committee's chairman, requested the commission provide bill drafts for legislators to consider at their Aug. 28 meeting in Grand Forks.