Basin Electric and Dakota Gas employees step up to ensure service during mid-December blizzard

Wheel dozer moving snow at Leland Olds Station.

For the past three days, while most of us were warm and safe at home, a blizzard raged throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, and portions of Minnesota. High winds, falling and blowing snow, and zero visibility are part of the package when it comes to winter on the plains. Employees at Leland Olds Station in Stanton, North Dakota, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant and Antelope Valley Station both located near Beulah, North Dakota, and Basin Electric Security and Response Services (SRS) in Bismarck, North Dakota, stepped up to keep the critical business running during this brutal winter storm, even when it meant not leaving the site until the blizzard subsides.

Staying onsite keeps people safe in a number of ways, from alleviating fatigue to making sure all safety protocols are being followed. It also keeps people off the roads, which often become dangerous during winter weather.

“Most people don’t know the full importance of having a dedicated team that is sleeping at the (Great Plains) Synfuels Plant to ensure it keeps operating,” says Dale Johnson, vice president and Synfuels Plant manager. “We need enough people on site to be able to replace one another at the end of a shift so we don’t have people working 24-36 hour shifts.” 

About 60 Dakota Gas employees per shift camped out in conference rooms, offices, and basically anywhere they could find a quiet spot to rest. And when employees don’t leave the plant, they need to eat at the plant. Over 450 meals were given out to employees staying at the plant. That’s 342 frozen pizzas and frozen microwave dinners, 120 hamburgers, and six packages of brats. The longest continuous stretch without leaving plant is 108 hours without going home.

Dakota Gas employees camped out for each shift in conference rooms, offices, and basically anywhere they could find a quiet spot to rest.

In Bismarck, the SRS team didn’t have to spend the night like they did during the April 2022 blizzard, but the office was fully staffed and many people worked from home. “We padded the schedule pretty heavy as this is our third epic storm this year,” says Jolene Johnson, manager of Basin Electric Security and Response Services. Employees on the Security and Facilities teams helped get the SRS employees who couldn’t make it in to the office by providing transportation to and from Headquarters to ensure there was adequate coverage inside the dispatch center. Many employees are currently working additional days and 12-14-hour shifts.

Several co-ops closed their doors due to the storm, which kept the SRS team busy. They handled incoming calls and dispatched services until crews were pulled for safety reasons. At that point, they received mostly member calls. Johnson says they put up what is called a “dynamic message," which makes the co-op member aware of what is happening. The messages are updated frequently as new information comes in. As of Dec. 16,  there were roughly 1,300 active outages in the cooperatives SRS serves.

Jason Cowan, plant manager at Leland Olds Station, says things are going well but employees did have to spend the night; operations folks were unable to get home at the end of their shifts, and their reliefs were unable to get to the plant. Maintenance employees plan to spend the night of Dec. 16 to ensure they can bring Unit 1 back online following a short maintenance outage. “The plant is running well and we are ready to be done with the snow,” says Cowan.

Everyone at Basin Electric and Dakota Gas is grateful for those who are willing to go the extra mile for the cooperative’s members, whether it’s working extra hours or spending the night onsite. “We have the facilities to keep our team safe, warm, and fed and we are so thankful they are willing to do the work,” Johnson says.

The coal pile at Leland Olds Station.
Blizzard conditions caused decreased visibility at Leland Olds Station.
A sign on a meeting room at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant reads, "Sleeping inside. Please stay out."