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Top North Dakota utility regulator, oil lobbyist testify on energy costs

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Julie Fedorchak testifies

North Dakota Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak testifies Wednesday to the U.S. Senate on Energy and Natural Resources' Energy Subcommittee about "pathways to lower energy prices in the U.S." 

Two figures in North Dakota's energy industry spoke Wednesday to a U.S. Senate panel on lowering energy costs.

North Dakota Public Service Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak and North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness testified to the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

They were part of a four-person panel that answered questions on "pathways to lower energy prices" in the U.S., including from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who has been critical of the Biden administration's energy policies.

Hoeven

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., speaks Wednesday at a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources' Energy Subcommittee meeting on "pathways to lower energy prices in the U.S." 

"Skyrocketing inflation and higher energy costs hit every American, every day. But more than that, significant parts of our nation face increased risk of blackouts and brownouts due to loss of baseload power, like coal-fired electric,” Hoeven said in a statement. “That’s why we need the Biden administration to reverse course on its harmful energy agenda and work with us to empower the U.S. to produce more energy with better environmental stewardship, like we’re doing in my home state."

Fedorchak, a Republican, said North Dakotans' natural gas bills have increased 30% since 2016 and transmission costs for electric customers have gone up 388% since 2003 "and promise to continue rising," despite the electricity-exporting state's ranking as one of the lowest for rates in the nation.

"Quite honestly our customers are starting to grow leery of the promises of low-cost, renewable energy," Fedorchak said. "Our utilities have aggressively pursued green energy, assuring customers it will save them money, and yet their bills are rising, so my first plea to you today is this: Be honest with American citizens. Transitioning our grid to 100% renewable energy may be achievable and desirable, but it is not going to lower costs for many, especially in the next 25 years."

She also spoke of "growing reliability challenges we see nationwide" as "a reality check on how the electric system works," citing a growing number of grid events requiring emergency procedures since 2016. She cited the 2021 Texas power grid crisis, when more than 240 people died amid outages and winter storms. 

Ron Ness

North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness testifies Wednesday to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources' Energy Subcommittee about "pathways to lower energy prices in the U.S." 

Ness said, "Increasing American oil and natural gas production will help reduce prices," but those efforts face hurdles for new leases, permits and easements on federal lands, "burdensome regulations, difficulty in building infrastructure, finding workers and access to new capital investment."

North Dakota's Bakken oil fields need "$20 million per day of investment to substantially grow production," he said. "The rhetoric that it is time for our country to leave fossil fuels behind" has driven investor hesitancy, he said.

Subcommittee Democrats questioned oil industry profits and federal subsidies to the industry, and emphasized climate change as a national security issue and global concern.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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