- Associated Press - Monday, November 2, 2015

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - There’s an electric super avenue coming to Williston, and it’s expected to pave the way to bring substantially more power and increased reliability for the Bakken.

Basin Electric is bringing a 345-kilovolt line here - Williston’s first - from a substation north of Beulah, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1MtLfR8 ) reports. In the Williston area it will tie into the Judson substation.

Next summer, they’ll continue building out this electric super line to Tioga, where it ties into the Neset substation. Completion of the line will enable Basin Electric to buy power from wind farms, such as the Lindahl Wind Farm, with which they have a pre-purchase agreement.

The towers for this 345-kilovolt line are a single pole structure, which is an unusual choice. They’re not as efficient in the use of steel, but are less intrusive to farmland. A 2-mile stretch of this new line will also carry a 230-kilovolt line from Mountrail Williams - another unusual choice. Power companies don’t generally prefer to put two lines on a single pole because a storm would knock out both lines at once, but it was necessary due to certain constraints on the space in that area.

Basin Electric generates power for 138 rural electric co-ops in nine states, which distribute that power through the equivalent of a wholesaler, Upper Missouri G&T; Electric Cooperative.

Between six and nine of Basin’s rural cooperatives are in the Bakken. These include McKenzie Electric, Sheridan Electric and Mountrail Williams.

The latter has just cut the ribbon on an 85,000-square-foot truck bay to serve its fleet of 100 or so trucks, many of them quick service trucks that repair lines at a moment’s notice in all sorts of weather. The trucks will be stored inside now, so that they are at comfortable operating temperatures at all time. The shiny new bay also provides locker rooms and hot showers for workers to use after their shifts.

This particular facility has been seven years in the making, General Manager Dale Haugen said, and opening it up felt a little like the first day of school.

“They were packing up their bankers boxes, and picking out their lockers,” he said. “The linemen are just giddy and these are guys who are 22 to 34 years old.”

Now that the new bay is completed, a new office is next in about a year-and-a-half. It will be located at the same office where customers had been paying their bills. The old office will be torn down.

The “blue goose,” which has fronted Mountrail Williams along Highway 2 the past five years, is also going away, at least from the road. Office space is still needed, so its end pieces are being located temporarily inside the new bay.

Haugen is not concerned about low oil prices hurting the electric cooperative, even if the downturn is prolonged. Following the 1980s bust, Mountrail Williams didn’t see any years of negative growth, Haugen said, maintaining at least a half percent, 1 percent growth even then.

Fewer rigs drilling means fewer requests for future power, but there are still 70 some operating in the Bakken.

Meanwhile, the existing wells and pipelines continue to operate and need about the same electric as before, he explained. The industry is also seeking to capture gas and build related compressor sites - items that will require more power.

And, last but not least, there’s the increased demand from building retail properties, apartments and houses, the latter of which have more space to heat and may require more power than man camp housing has.

“The last seven years, I’m safe to say we’ve had 30 percent-plus growth each year, and you think about that, but it’s compounded,” Haugen said. “Even this year to date, we are having our biggest growth year ever. Our generators are not generating less than a year ago. We’re just not sustaining a 30 percent increase in requests. We’re not turning that up to generate 30 percent more than last year.”

Haugen believes that once oil prices rise again, demand for future power will again be skyrocketing. That means Mountrail Williams cannot afford to slow down. “We are still so far behind in getting where we have to get,” he said.

Pre-boom, Mountrail Williams was a 50-megawatt company, with 3,300 miles of line and 7,200 services. New service requests were 151. As of last winter, they hit 365 MW, adding almost 2,000 miles of line and had 19,115 services. New service requests, meanwhile, numbered 2,555.

“We need two years to get caught up with the buildout, and then we need to stop and go back and do some maintenance,” Haugen said. “So I’m not a negative Nellie. With the slowdown, we are not lacking for work.”

Haugen says they are still expecting to be an 800 MW cooperative by 2025.

That power will actually be generated by Basin Electric, whose 345-kilovolt line is a crucial element to the overall game plan for Mountrail Williams and other Bakken cooperatives.

“The line is a $350 million investment,” says Curt Pearson, communications manager for Basin Electric. “So it’s a big investment. It’s important to the future of, I would say not just the Upper Great Plains, but the whole area that is the Bakken.”

The line will be connected into the greater transmission system at each end so it can then buy power from wind farms and use it in their power plants. They could also buy power from the line, or sell it - if there is ever any excess to sell.

“Power doesn’t go out of the Bakken, though,” Pearson said. “The demand is just too great.”

Pearson said the Bakken’s existing lines have been pushed to their limits. The new line can carry 400 MW at any one time, which is the equivalent of powering 320,000 homes. That’s going to take the pressure off everyone’s infrastructure, he explained.

“Williston’s not booming like it was, but it’s still growing and still needs more electric generation,” Pearson said. “It’s increasing at a lower rate, but load growth is still needed. This will give the cooperatives more delivery points to get power from and it will strengthen the system.”


Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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