Despite a pandemic and a host of new processes and procedures to learn, work is well underway at the North Dakota Legislature this 67th legislative session, which began Jan. 5. Legislators, lobbyists and citizens alike have adapted to the times, and for many organizations, it’s business as usual.
That’s been the case for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC), the trade association for North Dakota’s electric cooperatives, which advocates for electric co-ops at the Legislature. Led by Zac Smith, NDAREC’s government relations arm is monitoring 63 of the 885 bills and resolutions introduced this session that may have a direct or ancillary impact on electric cooperatives and their members.
As March begins, the Legislature is in recess following bill crossover Feb. 26, when a bill passed by the respective chamber in which it was introduced crossed over for consideration by the other chamber. Bills passed in the Senate moved to the House of Representatives for consideration, and vice versa.
“The flurry of activity in the Capitol tower has a different feel, with more state employees working from home and revamped virtual options for citizens, lobbyists and co-op members,” Smith says. “The energy is still high, and the work hasn’t slowed.”
Committee hearings have been moved to larger rooms and seating has been reduced to allow for social distancing. Committee rooms are now equipped with cameras and large viewing monitors to accommodate virtual participation and livestreaming of hearings. Those wishing to submit oral and written testimony can now do so remotely, through new technology implemented this session, as well.
“The new system to submit testimony has been a good addition to allow folks to testify remotely,” Smith says. “It reinforces the importance of having all voices at the table, or in ‘the room,’ to craft policy that works for all North Dakotans. We are grateful for the leaders in our local electric cooperative network, who have added their voices to our work at the Legislature, advocating for electric cooperatives and their members.”
KEY BILLS FOR NDAREC
▶ Senate Bill 2295 (DEFEATED) – Nearly identical to a bill introduced during the 2019 legislative session, this bill would have forced electric cooperatives to offer net metering at retails rates and, for the first time, place electric cooperative ratemaking, as it relates to net metering, under Public Service Commission (PSC) jurisdiction. Smith and Paul Matthys, vice president of member and energy services for Cass County Electric Cooperative, testified in opposition and provided technical background for the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee. Brian Kroshus, speaking on his own behalf as a public service commissioner, told the committee he didn’t feel it was appropriate to apply PSC jurisdiction, as is the case with investor-owned utilities, to electric cooperatives. “RECs (rural electric cooperatives) are member-driven, they’re member-owned. … They have a business model that works, and I think it should be preserved,” he said. SB 2295 was defeated in the Senate by a 7-39 vote.
▶ Senate Bill 2091 (PASSED THE SENATE) – This bill clarifies language in North Dakota Century Code to allow the resale of electricity specifically for charging electric vehicles. This change will benefit the operators of electric vehicle charging stations and the owners of electric vehicles, who want to buy units of electricity rather than an amount of time at a charging station. NDAREC worked with the PSC and investor-owned utilities on the bill language, and the PSC submitted it as an agency bill. NDAREC testified in support of SB 2091, which unanimously passed the Senate.
▶ House Bill 1412 (PASSED THE HOUSE) – This bill provides five-year coal conversion tax relief to lignite plants to improve the economic circumstances in which they operate. This tax relief will help the lignite industry remain viable with current market and federal policy pressures and provide stability for the industry, as it develops carbon capture technologies and additional uses for lignite coal. The proposal does not impact county tax revenue. NDAREC testified in support of this bill put forward by the Lignite Energy Council. It passed the House by an 85-6 margin.
PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS
North Dakotans have greater remote access to their citizen Legislature this session, with the implementation of new technology amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens can now track bills, livestream committee meetings and floor sessions and view archived videos entirely online. Remote testimony is also being accepted by legislative committees. Visit www.legis.nd.gov to learn more, or call 1-888-NDLEGIS (635-3447).