A pioneer in power: How Basin Electric has dared to innovate

Basin Electric has been a pioneer since its inception. The cooperative has a long history of taking chances and prioritizing innovation to meet the needs of members and end-of-the-line consumers. In honor of Pioneer Day on July 24, we're taking a look back at some of Basin Electric's pivotal decisions, from environmental impacts to new ways to generate power

Bold enough to begin

Back in the early 1960s, large cities and businesses had electricity, but much of the rural areas of the Upper Great Plains were still left in the dark. Basin Electric’s story started with the farmers and ranchers who worked together to bring electricity to their land because no one else would do it. Basin Electric was formed on the premise it would provide power for intermediate generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts). This power would be low cost because of economies of scale, and Basin Electric would be managed by a board of directors elected from the membership and run in a manner consistent with cooperative principles.

"…this Bureau of Reclamation transmission system is known as the Missouri Basin System. They didn’t want to go so far as to say both Missouri and Basin, but they ended up taking Basin Electric Power Cooperative."
Bill Wisdom, original incorporator

Protecting precious resources

In a time when many weren’t thinking about environmental impacts, Basin Electric was looking to the future. In July 1962, directors shaped a policy requiring that all coal companies include the cost of leveling the land after it has been mined as part of their price. Then in the mid-1960s, Basin Electric proposed model laws to the North Dakota legislature to protect the air, water, and land. The cooperative advocated legislation requiring mined land reclamation and prohibiting dumping industrial wastes into the rivers.

Reclamation History
Basin Electric's commitment to preserving resources and reclaiming land spans decades. Shown here is a reclamation site in 1980.

A vision for giant power

When Leland Olds Station Unit 1 went online in 1966, it was the largest lignite-based power plant in the Western Hemisphere and had the first pulverized lignite coal-fired boiler. The site had the necessary resources — a water supply, nearby rail line, and plenty of lignite. It also was close to the federal transmission system; just 12 miles of transmission would be needed for an interconnection to that system.

"We are gratified that we will be able to provide abundant, low-cost power to our members in the Missouri Basin just as we had planned."
James L. Grahl, Basin Electric’s first general manager (June 1962-March 1985)

Supporting rural housing

In 1970, Basin Electric initiated the People’s Housing Program to help relieve the critical shortage of adequate rural housing in the region. This program later received national acclaim.

A community that benefitted from the Rural Housing Project.

Read more about Basin Electric's bold decisions in Daring to innovate: 60 years of ambition in the summer 2021 issue of Basin Today.