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Obama mentions N.D. in stimulus speech

BISMARCK (AP) -- Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer says he was encouraged to hear President Barack Obama mention North Dakota in his speech before signing a $787 billion stimulus plan Tuesday. Cramer and other state officials are waiting to see the details.

"North Dakota has what America wants. We just have a hard time getting it from here to there," Cramer said.

The outdated transmission facilities mean "places like North Dakota can produce a lot of wind energy, but can't deliver it to communities that want it, leading to a gap between how much clean energy we are using and how much we could be using," the president said.

Cramer, a Republican, worries about the government's reach into private enterprise.

"If the government wants to assist the private sector, that's fine,' he said. 'It's scary if the government wants to get into the energy development business."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., says he continues to push legislation to build a transmission network similar to the interstate highway system championed by President Eisenhower.

At an energy meeting in Bismarck in November, Dorgan and Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens spoke of the need for a nationwide "electric transmission superhighway" to help develop more power from the wind and sun. Pickens said he heard estimates of around $70 billion to build a nationwide transmission network, which he said was a small cost considering the billions of dollars the U.S. pays annually for imported oil.

Sen. Kent Conrad says North Dakota is expecting about $492 million in funding through the new stimulus package, as well as tax relief and Medicaid money for hospitals and doctors. The state total includes $170 million in highway money, $86 million for educational incentive grants and about $2.9 billion for jobs and other improvements for American Indians. A White House analysis said it would create or save 8,000 jobs in North Dakota.

Obama promised an investment that "takes the important first step towards a nationwide transmission superhighway that will connect our cities to the windy plains of the Dakotas and the sunny deserts of the Southwest."

Cramer said he was encouraged that "a guy from Chicago," known as the Windy City, understands the challenge in North Dakota.