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North Dakota lags in energy efficiency

FARGO -- North Dakota has risen to become a top energy producing state, but lags near the bottom in its policies and performance in promoting energy efficiency, according to a new ranking.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in a study released Wednesday, ranks North Dakota ahead of only Mississippi.

Minnesota ranks ninth, placing it in the top tier of states. Massachusetts ranked first for the second year in a row.

North Dakota ranked last among the states in the scorecard

last year, and was cited as one of 10 states "most in need of improvement."

Great Plains states generally scored low, with South Dakota ranking 46 and Wyoming 48. Montana ranks 25, but was considered one of the states that showed the most improvement in increasing energy-efficiency, as was Oklahoma, which ranks 39.

Increasingly, state and local governments, as well as industry and consumer groups, are regarding energy conservation as an important resource, and cheaper than simply increasing energy supply, advocates said.

"States have really stepped up to take the lead," said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, adding that the issue often receives bipartisan support.

The council's State Energy Efficiency Scorecard evaluates states on a range of energy conservation policies, including building codes and energy-efficiency incentives.

Many of those states finishing near the top have embraced energy-efficiency targets and offer incentives to help reach them, the study found.

For instance, the report credited Minnesota for setting high energy performance standards for public buildings and its fleet of state vehicles.

North Dakota ranked near the bottom in terms of the stringency of its building codes, both residential and commercial. As a "home rule" state, there is no mandated state standard, according to the report.

Also, North Dakota does not offer incentives for utilities to promote energy-efficiency. Minnesota is among states that reward incentives for energy-conservation for utilities in a way that does not hamper its revenues by reducing consumption.

Although North Dakota scores low in the council's annual ranking, state and lignite industry officials have long touted the state's electricity rates, which rank among the nation's lowest.

In 2010, the most recent comparison available, North Dakota's lignite-coal-powered electricity plants charged an average of $22.47 per megawatt hour. That compared with $21.28 for all nuclear power, $30.75 for all coal plants and $40.94 for all gas-powered plants, according to figures from the North Dakota Lignite Energy Council.

State energy officials in the North Dakota Department of Commerce did not respond to a request to comment on the ranking.