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Regulators contemplate future of electric cars in North Dakota at public hearing

North Dakota, an oil-producing powerhouse, has among the lowest rates of electric vehicle ownership in the country.

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The North Dakota Public Service Commission listens to testimony during a public hearing on electric vehicles in Bismarck on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — Amid climate concerns and changing economic trends, electric vehicles are becoming a more popular option for drivers across the country. The big question for North Dakota regulators is how to treat utility companies and electricity customers who are jumping on the EV bandwagon.

A bipartisan federal infrastructure bill last year directed states to consider measures to promote "greater electrification of the transportation sector." President Joe Biden, who promoted the legislation, publicized a lofty goal last year for half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric powered.

The three-member North Dakota Public Service Commission held a public hearing on electric transportation in Bismarck on Thursday, Nov. 3, to gather input from stakeholders, but the all-Republican panel expressed some skepticism about electric vehicles and utilities firms' loose plans to accommodate their rise.

North Dakota, an oil-producing powerhouse, has among the lowest rates of electric vehicle ownership in the country.

Many of the roughly 30 attendees of the hearing represented electric utility companies, including Xcel Energy, Otter Tail Power Company and Montana-Dakota Utilities.

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A shift toward electric vehicles would mean more business for the companies, and their representatives expressed excitement about the potential for the growing sector.

Alex Nisbet, a regulatory policy specialist with Xcel, said the evolving electric vehicle landscape presents many opportunities for North Dakota, and utility companies should play a major role in facilitating the widespread adoption of EVs.

Like many Midwestern states, North Dakota lacks the infrastructure to support a rapid movement toward EVs, but Xcel is interested in establishing public charging stations in the state, Nesbit said. Minnesota-based Xcel serves the Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot areas.

North Dakota has about 60 public charging stations, most of which are concentrated around the state's largest cities, according to Drive Electric North Dakota.

Commissioners Julie Fedorchak and Randy Christmann questioned Xcel and other companies about their practice in other states of spreading the costs of building electric vehicle infrastructure across all customers, including those who don't own EVs.

Fedorchak implied it was "a fairness issue" to have customers subsidizing EV charging stations even if they don't use them. The companies said EVs provide a societal benefit in the form of lower emissions.

Enticing people to buy EVs with low electric costs and other incentives could backfire if there comes "a reckoning day when we can't afford to supplement all of this stuff anymore and then people have to pay what it really costs," Fedorchak said.

Brian Kopp, a Tesla owner from Dickinson, told the commission to expect a significant rise in demand for EVs in the coming years, especially after pickup trucks become more available. Kopp, who first bought an EV in 2014, laid out the thousands of dollars he saves every year by forgoing the gas pump and charging his car at home. He noted that EVs are quickly becoming more affordable to buy.

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North Dakota may soon play a role in the domestic electric vehicle supply chain. Officials unveiled a plan last month to create a mineral processing plant in Mercer County that would supply car brand Tesla with materials needed for electric vehicle batteries.

The commissioners did not take any action Thursday, though Fedorchak said the panel may resume discussions about regulating electric transportation after next year's legislative session. Written comments submitted to ndpsc@nd.gov will be accepted through Nov. 14.

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The North Dakota Public Service Commission listens to a speaker during a hearing on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. The commissioners, from right, are Sheri Haugen-Hoffart, Julie Fedorchak and Randy Christmann.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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