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Meeting the electrical demands of the patch

By Dennis Hill

The massive investment in energy development that’s been taking place in North Dakota was highlighted last month at a legislative hearing. In testimony provided by the state Public Service Commission (PSC), the agency reported that billions of dollars has been, or will be, invested in energy-related projects. Here’s a breakdown of projects since 2005 that either have been approved or are on file awaiting PSC approval*:

  • Wind farms: $3.7 billion approved, with $9.6 billion pending 
  • Other electric generation: $56 million approved, with $2.4 billion pending
  • High-voltage transmission lines: $843 million approved, with $310 million pending
  • Natural gas processing plants: $948 million approved
  • Oil and gas pipelines: $1.6 billion approved, with $40 million pending

Investments by North Dakota’s electric generation and transmission cooperatives make up a significant portion of that total — much of it to serve the growing electrical demands in the oil patch.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, based in Bismarck, has major projects underway or completed to serve the oil patch. For electric generation, Basin Electric is constructing two natural gas-fired generation plants in western North Dakota with capacity of about 180 megawatts (MW) for an investment of about $220 million. Basin Electric has also completed two, 230-kilovolt (KV) high-voltage transmission line upgrades. One runs from Belfield to Rhame and the other from Williston to Tioga. Total investment for these two lines was about $60 million. In addition, Basin Electric is currently conducting studies on building a 345-KV, high-voltage transmission line from the coal plants near Beulah to the oil patch, estimated to be a $300-million investment.

Minnkota Power Cooperative, based in Grand Forks, has begun construction on a 260-mile, 345-KV transmission line that will run from its power plant in Center to Grand Forks. The estimated investment for this line is $310 million.

Investments of this magnitude by electric cooperatives and other energy companies are good for job creation, expansion of the tax base and overall economic prosperity. Of course, these projects come with impacts as well. That’s where the PSC has a major role to play in making sure these projects are based on sound economics, built on sensible sites and in defensible corridors, and are operated in ways that will have minimal impact on the environment.

It’s fashionable to blame regulations and regulators for economic problems in this country. In some cases there’s merit in that, as regulators do occasionally overstep their bounds. But in our state, with billions already invested and billions more to be built, it’s appropriate to have the prudent hand of regulation provided by our past PSC commissioners and our current commissioners, Brian Kalk, Randy Christmann and Julie Fedorchak, to guide us along the way.

*For a complete list of completed and pending projects, go to http://www.psc.nd.gov/public/consinfo/jurisdictionsiting.php and click on the “Siting Applications” link at the bottom of the page.

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