Kim Christianson, Bismarck, column -- Use fund where voters intended: Energy
By Kim Christianson BISMARCK -- In his December budget address, Gov. Jack Dalrymple laid out a thoughtful and aggressive agenda to guide North Dakota through the next biennium. North Dakota legislators now will consider and make decisions on his ...
By Kim Christianson
BISMARCK -- In his December budget address, Gov. Jack Dalrymple laid out a thoughtful and aggressive agenda to guide North Dakota through the next biennium. North Dakota legislators now will consider and make decisions on his recommendations.
In his proposed budget, Dalrymple specifically mentioned using the Resources Trust Fund for various large-scale water projects, including the Devils Lake outlet and the Red River diversion channel. Water-project advocates know that the Resources Trust Fund is a substantial source of funding for state water initiatives, but many North Dakotans are unfamiliar with the fund and why it was established.
The Resources Trust Fund originally was created through passage of an initiated measure in 1980. At that time, the fund received 10 percent of the 6.5 percent oil extraction tax.
In the June 1990 primary election, North Dakota voters approved the fund as a constitutional trust fund with the provision that the principal and income of the fund could be legislatively appropriated for two purposes: building water-related projects, including rural water systems; and funding energy conservation programs.
The North Dakota Century Code further clarifies the purposes of the fund by stating it is available for legislative appropriation to the State Water Commission for planning and building water-related projects and to the Industrial Commission for energy conservation and development of renewable energy sources, cogeneration system development studies and waste product utilization programs and studies.
Current law also provides that 20 percent of the oil extraction tax collections be deposited in the fund.
According to the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget, the fund has generated more than $230 million from FY 1994 through FY 2010. State officials project it will generate an additional $282 million in fiscal years 2011, 2012 and 2013 alone.
All that being said, no dollars from the fund ever have been used for energy conservation, renewable energy or waste product utilization projects!
The North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy is an advocacy group with members representing growers groups, investor-owned utility companies, rural electric cooperatives, state agencies, economic development groups, colleges and universities, banks, manufacturers and more. Its purpose is to find common ground and opportunities and to develop strategies to make North Dakota the preeminent state for renewable energy.
NDARE has developed and adopted renewable energy and energy efficiency policies for 2011, including a proposal to use a small percentage -- 3 percent or about $10 million -- of the projected 2011-2013 Resources Trust Fund monies for energy-efficiency programs that will benefit all North Dakotans.
For example, NDARE proposes the creation of a revolving loan program that would provide low-or-no-interest loans to schools and public buildings to undertake efficiency studies and implement energy-efficiency improvements paid back within a certain time through utility savings.
Other potential uses of the money include energy efficiency education and outreach efforts through the university system's Extension Service, establishment of an energy efficiency center or "one-stop shop" for information, training and assistance with energy efficiency efforts and a statewide competitive program to encourage city and county energy-efficiency programs and initiatives.
A November 2010 statewide survey by UND's Office of Governmental Affairs showed very strong support for energy-efficiency programs and, more specifically, for use of a portion of the Resources Trust Fund for energy-related activities.
Nobody disputes the importance of water projects in North Dakota. NDARE as a group is on record supporting the use of most RTF dollars for priority water projects.
But there is sufficient funding in the fund to undertake energy-efficiency and other energy programs that will benefit all North Dakotans. It is long overdue that the full wishes of North Dakota voters be recognized.
Christianson is vice-chair of the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy.