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Crabtree declares candidacy for N.D. Public Service Commission

Brad Crabtree portrait

Brad Crabtree, a Kulm, N.D., rancher who has worked in energy and environmental issues for the Great Plains Institute, traveled across the state Wednesday announcing he is running for the North Dakota Public Service Commission.

Crabtree, 41, is a Democrat who said he will bring a new vision of ways to regulate energy that will promote development while being friendly to consumers and the environment if he's elected to the three-member commission that regulates public utilities.

He's the first to officially declare his bid for the seat held by Commissioner Kevin Cramer, a Republican running against U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy for the state's sole House seat, who has said he will not seek re-election to the PSC.

Crabtree spoke in Bismarck and Fargo before hitting Grand Forks to address a small group of reporters, students and local politicians in UND's Memorial Union.

He said North Dakota has "a lot of opportunity" in its energy practices, but work still needs to be done.

"There are good things happening, but our politics haven't caught up," Crabtree said.

The political debate over energy issues in North Dakota is often about "what we can't do," he said. But it's more important to start using innovative technology now in order to be in a good position and keep energy prices affordable for residents, he said.

The stakes are high here because North Dakota is "one of the last great places" in America for natural resources opportunities and decisions made now will affect the state's future for decades, Crabtree said.

Regulatory goals

Besides ranching, Crabtree is policy director for the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that for a decade has worked to bring legislators, farmers, ergy companies and environmental interests together to forge policies on using energy in sustainable, environmentally friendly ways. The Institute, which works in 12 states and Manitoba, is funded mostly by the Bush Foundation in the Twin Cities and brands itself as nonpartisan, according to its Web site.

Crabtree said his work with the Institute gives him a good background for the PSC's work in regulating electrical and coal companies in the state.

In addition to overseeing power companies and their rates, the Commission regulates coal mining, pipelines, grain elevators and auctioneering. The three Commissioners serve six-year terms.

"First and foremost, the responsibility of a commissioner (on the PSC) is to protect North Dakota consumers in terms of the rates they pay for energy, so the affordability of energy will be a key point," Crabtree told the Herald.

Ways of promoting more efficient ways of using energy have to be found, because too often now the incentives are against saving energy, he said.

"Every dollar you don't spend on energy is another dollar you have to spend on something else," he said. "We have no energy efficiency policy in North Dakota. Take Xcel Energy, for example, because they are up in Grand Forks. If Xcel wants to make investments in their system and in building and facilities owned by their customers that will reduce electricity and natural gas use, the effect is less sales for Xcel. So, you have to find ways, through rates and the regulatory process to (allow Xcel to) earn a return from those investments."

He said he sees a win-win deal in good regulation.

"What I will do is make sure we give Xcel (ways) of earning money from that while allowing consumers to save money at the same time," Crabtree said. "It's being done all over the country, even in conservative Indiana."

He's also stressing more diversification of energy in the state, especially wind and biomass-generated power and the need to keep ahead of the drive for cleaner energy.

Environmental stewardship is another main platform plank for him, Crabtree said.

Too much of the debate in the state is polarized between touting energy development or pushing environmental concerns, he said. He argues both can be had.

"I've been all over the world and seen firsthand where truly technologically successful companies are doing both," he said. "That will be one of my major commitments."

Crabtree said while he views the PSC seat as a nonpartisan office, he's gotten lots of encouragement from Democrats across the state for him to run for the Commission, which has three Republicans on board.

He and his wife, Renee, and their daughter, Suria, 10, work 50 cattle and 200 sheep on their ranch near Kulm, south of Jamestown in Dickey County.

While his family hails from Ellendale, N.D., Crabtree grew up in Bismarck, graduating from Century High. He has a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University's foreign service school in Washington and a master's degree in history from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

He worked on energy and environmental policy issues in Washington for several years before moving back to North Dakota in 1997 with his wife.

On the web: www.crabtreeforpsc.com.

Herald staff writer Ryan Johnson contributed to this report. Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com.

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