– [Announcer] Funding for
election 2018 coverage is provided in part by AARP, a non-profit non-partisan membership association. 88,000 strong in North Dakota. Creating real possibilities
right here in North Dakota. And by the members of Prairie Public. (building orchestra music) – Good evening and welcome
to a continuing coverage of the 2018 election from Prairie Public and from AARP, thanks for
joining us this evening. Tonight we are going to feature the debate for the six year term for the North Dakota Public Service Commission. Our two candidates, Randy Christmann who is the incumbent Republican
on the Public Service Commission, and Jean Brandt,
the Democratic challenger. Thank you both for being here. We’ll begin with one
minute opening statements and by coin flip it has
been determined that Randy Christmann will begin. – Thank you Dave, and
thank you to Prairie Public and AARP for providing this
opportunity for us to talk about the issues of the day
with the people of the state. I’ve always said that
one of the most important decisions I ever made in
my life was when I was 17 years old and joined the North
Dakota Army National Guard. I learned a lot of valuable
lessons in the military. Among the most valuable
were the importance of being part of a team
and serving a greater good. I was able to do that in my years when I was ranching, by being a director of a large telecommunications cooperative, and by serving 18 years in
the North Dakota Senate. But in 2012 the people
of North Dakota chose me to serve instead on the
Public Service Commission and now looking back at my first term, there’s a lot of accomplishments
that I’m mighty proud of, but I also see opportunities to continue doing good things for
the people of the state and I look forward to discussing those things with you tonight. – Thank you very much and now we turn to the challenger Jean Brandt. – Thank you. Good evening everyone. Now first of all I want to
thank Prairie Public, AARP, for giving us this valuable
time to share our views with the people of North
Dakota, the voters out there. I’ll give a brief background of myself and it will set it up
so you will understand why I am interested in running for the PSC to serve you on the commission. I was born and raised on a farm and ranch in north central North Dakota. To this day I remain on the farm and ranch that my husband and I have now operated for some 30, 40 years. And we raised our three children there, worked beside each other. While we were doing those things I also became involved with the North Dakota Rural Electric Co-op. I served on the board of
directors at North Central Electric, I have been there
for nearly two decades. Also I serve now on the Central Power, which is the transmission
cooperative out of Minot. And I serve on the
North Dakota Association Over Electrics as well. For the last 10 years I have, thank you. – Well let’s begin with
questions this evening and the first one will
go to Jean Brandt first. What are your thoughts now
on the future of wind farms in North Dakota and also
how does that relate to the coal industry and the
future of coal in North Dakota? – I’m very familiar with the wind farms as I told you I was on
the, I work on the board at the REC and we work very closely with the renewable energies
and with our coal based energy. I think it’s very important
to understand how the mix has to work in order to provide the people with affordable and reliable power. The renewables are great and
they are part of our portfolio but we also have to have
the coal based power as our generation, our
main generation so that when the wind isn’t blowing
or the sun isn’t shining for solar we have power
coming into the people’s homes and as far as the public
service position on that I believe that we need to be
aware of that reliability, that integrity of that base low generation as well as the resiliency to the grid. – Thank you, Christmann your response? – Well as long as wind
energy is subsidized to the level that it
is by our policy makers in Washington D.C. it will
continue to be developed. That development will continue
to have adverse impact on both the nuclear industry
as well as the coal industry around the nation. The good news in North
Dakota is our coal industry is extraordinarily efficient,
so the adverse impacts have been felt much more
in other states than here. But do not doubt the
fact that there have been adverse impacts to North
Dakota and that will continue. The PSC’s role in all this is
to see that when wind energy is developed in the state
it is done in accordance with the laws and the
policies as approved by the North Dakota legislature. And we have done that
with our citing hearings, we have hearings out in the
areas that are going to be developed, so we get
information from the people that live there. I want to emphasize that North Dakota is I believe the first
regulatory body in the nation to require light mitigation
technology on wind turbines and that is being done in
order to offset the impacts of the flashing red lights
on our beautiful night sky. That technology however
can’t be used until the Federal Aviation
Administration approves it. To me even more importantly
is the fact that we are the first regulatory body
in the nation to require decommissioning plans along
with financial assurances from the owners to make
sure the plans are followed so that some day in 30, 40, 50 years whenever they become
obsolete, those lights will be turned off, the
wind farms will be removed, and our prairie will
be returned to normal. That was a priority of
mine when I was elected, I feel good about our accomplishments. There’s still tweaks to be
made, but this is something that is gonna pay big dividends
for future generations. – Okay to Jean Brandt, would you like to respond to that? – Yes I just want to add that the role of the Public Service Commission is as a regulatory commission
and is to look for the best for the people of North
Dakota, protecting them, the land, and the environment. And I feel that that is a
very important thing to do and to keep in mind as we
are citing wind generation and also like I spoke of
earlier, that reliability issue. Because we are also supposed
to be assuring that the people receive the energy in a
timely and a fair manner. – Now to Randy Christmann
would you like a final word? – Sure, I was citing
hearings where we go out, we have hearings in the areas
that are going to be impacted. As well as our work with the companies and the regional
transmission organizations that have been established
by the federal government are important in making
sure that these projects are done not only in accordance
with the environmental and safety laws with the
state of North Dakota but also in order to make sure that the energy system will be
reliable for the future. – Alright the next question
goes to Randy Christmann first. Is it fair to allow
utilities to get an interim rate increase and then have to
refund it back to consumers? Is it fair to make
consumers pay that up front? – It is, it’s a long tradition
and it’s been that way for a very good reason. When the utility companies
come in with a rate case we don’t want to be hurried
in order to do that. One of the things that has
been extraordinarily important to the, to me and to
the current commission is to make sure that we keep
our rates absolutely as low as possible while also making
sure that the company has the resources that they need
to provide dependable power and safe power or gas in either case. In order to do that, in order to make sure that the rates are as low as possible, we need time to process it. The focus that we’ve shown
on this is one of the reasons why our rate cases take a
little longer than a lot of other states, because
we leave no stone unturned. We make sure that we’ve
explored every possibility to keep those rates as low as possible. And that takes time. In the meantime the company
collects the rates that they say they need. If it turns out to be
more than what they needed they’re refunded to the consumers. – Okay Jean Brandt, your response? – From the PSC side of things
and the people of North Dakota the rate increases are a
huge item that they are concerned about with the commission, what they’re doing,
what they’re working on. No one can afford when
you’re working in a, excuse me, a working
family or a fixed income, no one can afford huge rate increases year after year after year. I understand rate increases,
I understand rate decreases, I understand rate structure,
and substantiated rates are acceptable but it
must be looked at from all viewpoints and as my opponent
said you can’t do this overnight but you must listen
to the voice of the people. And sometimes I think the people’s voice gets kind of buried under the other things that are being brought
up and looked at and they are not being looked after. I intend to listen, to research, and to do the best for those people that those rates really
do have a huge impact on. – Randy Christmann, you’re response? – Every rate case obviously
has multiple opportunities for public input, we have
public input sessions then we have open cases where
we gather a lot of information from consumers as well
as from advocacy groups. The impacts of high rates
though are so important to lower income people and
that’s one of the things I always like to emphasize, that in my opinion if
the rates get too high lower income people in many
cases will continue to have power and gas but that may
be offset by not being able to have medications, or
healthy food, or other things. That’s why it’s so
important to me to make sure that in every one of
these cases the company has what they need, but
only what they need. The rest comes back to the consumers. – The last word on this
question is for Jean Brandt. – Yes, that is a very good point and I am there for the
voice of the people. There are often people who
talk about the public hearings the open comments the
sessions and so forth but there are people
that are not comfortable getting up and speaking
in front of a group or at an open comment session. I can be that voice for those people because I do understand that
and I will go to all lengths to make sure that the
people’s voices are heard and that they are assured
a just and fair rate with affordable and safe power coming into their homes and businesses. – The next question is
for Jean Brandt first. The Public Service
Commission has been asked to submit a budget with a 10% budget cut. One thing that’s being
proposed is to eliminate the grain inspection program. First is it a good idea or not? And if not, where would you start cutting under a 10% budget cut directive? – Budget cuts are always a
bad deal to have to deal with, no matter what we’re doing
because I believe that things should be run well so
that we don’t have to be slashing things easily. Then you know that you were
operating out of your means. I do not believe that changing
things in our elevators, weights and measures are
a huge accomplishment that the PSC has dealt with in the past and come to and we don’t
want to cut back on those types of areas where there
could be fraud or any kind of neglect or misuse
going on from that end. It would have to be carefully looked at. Not being a commissioner
at that time, at this time, it’s hard for me to
actually define where would I make those cuts, but I can
guarantee you that I would look long and hard, I’ve
had to do those things in my personal life, in my
work life, in the oil industry. When I worked I was in administration. Many times we had to make
cuts, benefits, issues, and so forth. Safety number one, we
need to keep safety first. We need to be on top of that. We cannot sacrifice that,
but there will be ways to find a cut as it is
demanded by the commission. – Randy Christmann, your response? – In order to meet Governor
Burgum’s 10% general fund reduction mandate, one or more
of our safety or compliance programs has to be reduced. And a thorough evaluation of our budget shows that those are the
only places to get that kind of revenue shavings. Every one of those programs
has real life impacts on North Dakota citizens. After much discussion this is
the program that was chosen. However as part of our budgeting process, agencies are also allowed
to submit a prioritized list of other recommendations. Our number one priority
of those recommendations is restoration of the
grain licensing program. That’s a program that
provides real benefits to North Dakota ag producers. We have excellent field
inspectors on our staff and I am gonna be arguing vociferously on behalf of the idea of
restoring that program and I’m confident that by
next spring when our budget is finally approved that
Governor Burgum as well as the legislature are going
to see that this reduction, while huge to our small
budget is not that huge to the overall state budget
and ought not happen. – Jean would you like a response to that? – Again, I told you earlier folks that I have that strong ag
background and I understand the need for those safeguards,
the need for those things to be in place, again
I will say I don’t feel it’s a good place to start
cutting and where it would be I would really have to
do the research on that and the cuts would be
made as needed and done as efficiently as possible. – Anything further, Randy Christmann? – I wanted to add that my own community, my own local elevator had an insolvency shortly before I came on the commission I’ve seen my friends and
neighbors live through that. The work that this program
does in those rare instances, because I want to emphasize
most of our grain licenses are very stable but in
those rare instances of insolvencies this is an important program to help make those ag producers as close to whole as possible. – Alright our next question
goes first to Randy Christmann. Given the trach record with DAPL, the Dakota Access Pipeline,
are there things that could have been done
differently in the future or things that could have
been done differently looking back on it, and
all the controversies over that point. So again, was it handled
correctly, are there different things that could be done in the future? – You know at the agency
we’re big promoters of new innovation and technology
and as part of that really every case that comes before
us we look at to see if there are lessons learned,
areas where we can improve our procedures, of course
DAPL was no different. But to look at that case
specifically I want to emphasize that our entire procedure
in reaching a conclusion by the PSC and the Dakota
Access Pipeline case was done completely in
accordance with North Dakota law and regulation and policy
approved by the legislature. In fact we went above
and beyond and set a hold in one public hearing, we held three and they were spread
out in Mandan, Killdeer, and Williston in order
to lessen drive time and make sure people could come. That public input is a great help to us and in that case caused multiple changes in that pipeline before we
were willing to approve it. So it was ultimately
approved and only after a final decision was made
did the extreme environmental groups and teams of
lawyers show up and explore every avenue to try and
find flaws in our process. Our process was put
under a legal microscope in front of multiple courts
and in front of multiple judges and was never found to be
anything but appropriate. And I will emphasize that that project now is moving North Dakota oil
dependably, effectively, and safely, and it is doing
it in a way that benefits our mineral owners, our job developers, as well as North Dakota taxpayers, it was a well handled project. – Okay, alright, well what has happened is that Jean has apparently
had a bit of a medical issue so we’re taking care of
it and Randy I’ll just give you a few seconds just to wrap up. – Well first of all I want
to thank Dave Thompson, Prairie Public, and AARP for
providing this opportunity tonight, we explored some of
the issues that are important but I think a further
exploration of the agency would show the importance
and the complexity of this agency and I hope that people will take advantage of that,
really look into the things that we do at the Public
Service Commission, and what they’re going
to see are public safety and compliance programs that
are operating efficiently and effectively, a coal
mine reclamation program that I think is the best in the nation. They’re going to see
regulatory rates that are low and they’re going to see nine
and a half billion dollars worth of energy infrastructure projects, almost 140 million dollars
a month cited and approved safely and reliably. – Thank you so much. And ladies and gentleman
thank you for watching and listening to this debate tonight. Thanks to our partners
AARP and again remember to vote in November. For Prairie Public and
AARP, I’m Dave Thompson. (building orchestra music) – [Announcer] Funding for
election 2018 coverage is provided in part by AARP,
a non-profit, non-partisan membership association. 88,000 strong in North Dakota. Creating real possibilities
right here in North Dakota. And by the members of Prairie Public.