- Position papers created for public policymakers
- Identify state funding source for demonstration projects
- Build the foundation of CO2 capture and utilization in North Dakota
- Engage with like-minded groups to support an all-of-the-above energy policy
- Work with elected officials who support the lignite industry
- Lignite Energy Council selects new director of government relations
New Members in 2017
- All State Fire Equipment Fleet Solutions
- American Coal Council
- Big Horn Tire
- Cast Steel Products, Inc.
- Cornerstone Bank
- Eclectic Solutions and Services
- Envergex LLC
- Ingersoll Rand
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #1593
- Iron Mining Association of Minnesota
- MC Industrial
- Northern Plains Plumbing, Heating & Air Inc.
- NTN Bearing Corporation
- Shermco Industries
- Sunbelt Rentals
- TMI Coatings
- Union State Bank
Government Action Efforts
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016 provided a new avenue for the Lignite Energy Council to revisit past regulations. The Lignite Energy Council provided comments to Rick Perry, Secretary of the Department of Energy, regarding his grid reliability study and to President Trump regarding coal’s importance to the economy and to the reliability of the entire electric grid. We also submitted comments regarding the repeal of the federal coal valuation rule and the coal combustion residual permitting program.
The Lignite Energy Council’s government action committee began meeting in 2016 and prioritized securing increased research and development funds to continue down the path of building next generation coal infrastructure in North Dakota. The LEC was successful in ending a sunset provision that would have decreased R&D funding by $2.5 million, and we added new funding sources of more than $10 million during the 2017 North Dakota legislative session.
The Lignite Energy Council worked with our federal Congressional delegation on several Department of Energy funding initiatives as well as working to reform the 45Q section of the tax code to better incentivize the capture of carbon dioxide. We were also heavily involved with the creation of a new Department of Environmental Quality and provided testimony several times during the North Dakota legislative session.
The LEC hosted The Energy Council of state legislator’s summer conference and hosted an opening reception with the Bismarck Larks. We also worked closely with North Dakota regulators and sent a letter to the North Dakota Public Service Commission on its proposed changes to revegetation standards.
We worked with the North Dakota Insurance Commissioner as he joined with other commissioners from other states to oppose efforts begun in California to encourage companies to divest in coal related companies, despite the coal industry’s efforts that are vital to the well-being of the country. The Lignite Energy Council also held its annual “fly-in” in early December and met with officials with the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and eight Senate and House offices. We also participated in a Roundtable Discussion with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in Grand Forks.
Jonathan Fortner, currently a research consultant for the Minnesota House of Representatives, will join the Lignite Energy Council on January 2, 2018, as the director of government relations.
“After an exhaustive search, we chose Jonathan because of his legislative expertise and experience,” said Jason Bohrer, president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council. “As the lignite industry looks to the future, favorable legislative and regulatory actions will be increasingly important to the vitality and longevity of the mines and plants.”
Fortner graduated from high school in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and earned an undergraduate degree from Presentation College in Aberdeen. He also earned two master’s degrees – one in business administration and the other in public administration – from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Prior to his current employer, Fortner worked as a lobbyist for the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm in Minnesota.
Public Relations Objectives
The Lignite Energy Council Facebook followers continue to grow. We started the year with 1,110 Facebook followers and more than doubled this number during the year. On Twitter, LEC President and CEO Jason Bohrer added his voice along with the LEC and a @LigniteJobs account. During the year, the LEC gained a presence on Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. The LEC has also added several videos over the past year to its YouTube account, including profiles of North Dakota mines and plants.
Pinterest was added to LEC’s social media repertoire in March. Snapchat was added as an advertising platform in September following a survey of high school juniors and seniors involved in the Coal Country Leadership Academy. The survey showed that Snapchat was the favorite social media platform for students. Besides adding these platforms, we also used geo-targeting to zero in on particular audiences at specific events, such as the LEC hosting a booth in July at the North Dakota State Fair. The LEC also used Facebook Live to raise awareness at the State Fair as well as at our Annual Meeting and Fall Conference.
The LEC ran several contests and campaigns throughout the year. One of the campaigns involved eight employees at the Young Station and the Center Mine talking about their jobs and wages. This campaign followed the announcement that Oliver County again had the highest average wages in the state. The campaign was well received by a diverse audience. Contests throughout the year included a calendar photo contest and a “guess when President Trump will say the word ‘coal’ in his speech” contest. In addition, the LEC used social media as the primary messenger for many of its videos, including a TV advertisement and a music video.
Both audiences and messages have changed regarding basic information provided to the public and policymakers in North Dakota and Minnesota in 2017. Representatives of the Coalition for a Secure Energy Future spoke to civic groups, political candidates and elected officials about the ever-changing energy environment and how lignite-based generation provides 24/7 energy affordably and with an eye to the environment. In Minnesota, the audience was not only state legislators but also Congressional staff and legislative candidates. This effort is helped by the two CSEF co-chairs Mike Beard and Loren Solberg, both former Minnesota legislators.
The lignite industry touches so many different people and industries in North Dakota and Minnesota. One way we reach and interact with different groups and individuals is through inviting different guests on the Energy Matters radio program, which reaches a wide audience. We had a diverse group of speakers ranging from Chamber executives, to ND and MN legislators, to educators, to contractor/supplier members. With each different speaker, we are able to broaden our listening audience while also achieving synergies between groups, such as ag processors or mining interests and energy providers.
Association Effectiveness Objectives
Kari Knudson, vice president of the National Energy Center of Excellence, conducted a strategic planning activity with the staff of the Lignite Energy Council on November 1 at Bismarck State College. The purpose was to identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) facing the Lignite Energy Council and allow for the staff to develop plans to accentuate the strengths and opportunities and minimize or mitigate the weaknesses and threats. The results will be incorporated into the team goals for the Lignite Energy Council employees.
As a small staff with a busy agenda, holding weekly or bi-weekly staff meetings can be problematic because of travel schedules and appointments. To facilitate reporting of activities among LEC staff, monthly written reports were requested by the LEC President and CEO from the staff. The results of these reports were then shared with members of the board of directors and ultimately with members of the Lignite Energy Council through this annual report and updates given to the membership at the LEC’s fall and spring conferences.
The staff was challenged to look four years out and identify what projects they might be working on and what they should be doing now to prepare for the future, such as education, technology, etc. This resulted in some employees requesting additional training. This exercise has already led to some transitions in our membership and communication programs. We are currently in the midst of moving from Membee, a software program for managing our membership lists, to GrowthZone, a more robust package that allows for more flexibility and will allow our members to customize their interests. It will also allow the LEC to reach a wider audience for possible membership.
Members of the LEC staff identified several associations as having similar interests to the Lignite Energy Council. For instance, the American Coal Council, which is located in Washington, D.C., advocates on behalf of the coal industry for clean coal technologies and education. The LEC swapped membership with ACC, which allows both associations to gain broader knowledge regarding our specialties and areas of mutual interest. The cross-memberships don’t cost either association; however, both benefit from shared knowledge.
To maximize the activities of a small staff with diverse objectives, greater autonomy has been given to employee, which in turn has paid dividends as decision time has been shortened and more has been accomplished. Examples of a staff empowered to achieve personal and team goals range in size and shape depending upon the person and the role of responsibility. A major campaign aimed at high school students in coal country is but one example of how more autonomy brought significant results. This campaign – known as air, land and water – resulted in repurposing various campaign materials and using them on social media and for other communications opportunities.