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Murphy: EmPower Commission helps in legislative process

The Energy Development and Transmission Committee, on which I serve, met Aug. 14 in Bismarck to hear the reporting of two entities: IHS Chemical and the ND EmPower Commission.

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IHS did a study for North Dakota (as they do for many states and corporations) concerning the viability of value-added products for renewable energy resources and oil and gas. There are different combinations of carbon structures within oil and gas coming out of the Bakken that lend themselves to the production of a wide variety of plastics commonly used in the United States and the world.

IHS reported in some depth which types of that feedstock, as they term it, would be most in demand, as well as which would be most profitable for which to build a manufacturing plant in our state. This information is not confidential. Here are a couple of observations for you to ponder.

A plant converting our fossil fuels at the necessary scale of economy to meet a cost-benefit analysis would cost between $1.5-2 billion. Another point made was that a biomass or biofuels plant better suited to eastern North Dakota would range in the half-billion mark.

A member of the EmPower Commission, fully represented in the room for the IHS report as well as their own, came up at the first break and eagerly questioned me as to the one ingredient most critical for either of these types of industries to succeed should investors buy in.

“Natural Gas,” I replied. “Bingo,” he said. Presumably, he had heard of the group of interested suppliers, regulators, agencies, legislators and potential customers that began meeting in May to discuss what options exist for spreading natural gas to rural areas of the state. When we began that conversation with Xcel Energy in March, there were about six folks meeting in the high school where I taught. But to their credit, many see the potential and have begun some wide-ranging exploration. At this point, the conversation is remaining outside of the official purview of the EmPower Commission, although many members are engaged. The concept is daunting and I will keep you posted as the conversations continue.

You may want to know a little bit about the EmPower Commission. It has been typified to me that it began in 2007 to avoid disagreeing about energy matters in front of legislative hearing rooms and to instead do what they could to come to agreement before the legislative session begins.

In other words, it has been charged by the Legislature — with appointments made by the governor — to develop a comprehensive energy policy.

It is comprised of representatives from the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the Lignite Energy Council, as well as wind, ethanol, energy suppliers such as Otter Tail, Great River Energy, Xcel Energy, MDU Resources, Tesoro, Basin Electric, the Greater North Dakota Chamber commissioner, and others that you can look up with a simple search engine.

They provided our committee with several bill drafts that we may or may not decide to employ this coming session.

My initial take on the matters at hand is that most of them will be introduced in one form or the other come January. Members of the EmPower Commission spoke of many blunt conversations in the previous months to be able to arrive at the bill drafts they put before us.

With the brief sessions we afford ourselves every other year, it would appear that their work is helpful to the legislative process.

Murphy is a Democrat from Portland representing District 20 in the North Dakota Senate.