CEO Talk

Paul Sukut

Our voice is being heard

There’s nothing like a trip to the nation’s capital to humble a person. Within those historic, beautiful buildings, policies and decisions are being made that have the potential to change the course of our country.

I have traveled to Washington, D.C., throughout my life for various reasons. I especially take joy in watching the youth groups tour the nation’s capital. Many of these kids have grown up in rural communities, and these tours are the first time they have traveled beyond their home state. Seeing their awe-inspired faces brings me back to my youth, growing up in Dickey County, ND, and attending the James Valley Electric Co-op annual meetings. (The ice cream is what I mostly remember.)

Today, my daughter Lizzie is cutting her teeth in this big world as she works on Capitol Hill. She has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, with larger-than-life moments connecting it all. Her perspective has been forever changed, and her world has become much bigger. What an incredible experience.

I think it’s natural for us to sit back in our respective states and watch some of the turmoil in D.C. as we face potential regulations that pose threats for our industry. We can be frustrated. We can be irritated. And, at times, we can feel helpless.
But the one shining light in ALL of this is that, as American citizens, we have the right to go to our nation’s capital and talk it out. Furthermore, it is the duty of our elected and appointed officials to listen.

And, that’s just what co-ops did the last week in April during the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) Legislative Rally.

Seeing the many folks from across the country fill the halls is a true reminder of our grassroots power and influence. Basin Electric’s membership, in particular, spans nine states. We are so fortunate to have engaged and helpful representation on Capitol Hill.

That influence even led to a face-to-face meeting with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. Joining me to discuss regulatory challenges and opportunities were representatives from Minnkota Power Cooperative, several North Dakota distribution cooperatives, and other industries. We discussed the Clean Power Plan and the unique challenges we face in the Midwest with younger coal-based facilities with substantial remaining useful lives. We elaborated on our commitment to reducing our carbon emissions and the progress we’ve made so far. We shared our fundamental belief that states should have primacy over their carbon management program. And, we discussed the varying fuel sources within our regions and how those should be taken into account when crafting a regulation.

Administrator Pruitt was supportive and understanding of our situation and expressed his commitment to seeking viable solutions. His agency requested industry to compile a comprehensive list of regulations impacting utilities along with projected compliance costs. We worked diligently internally and with NRECA to facilitate this request and are hopeful it will bring a level of regulatory relief and certainty.

You’ve long heard me speak about our need for time and flexibility to comply with the Clean Power Plan as written. President Trump’s executive order directing EPA to review the CPP, and establishing a process to repeal or revise the rule, provides us that.

The order is the first step in a lengthy process that will require a full rulemaking, including development of a draft proposal, opportunity for public input, and response to that input.

Additionally, on April 28, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled to hold the Clean Power Plan rule in abeyance, or temporary suspension, for 60 days.

The court further ordered the petitioners to file supplemental briefs addressing whether the case should be permanently abated, or instead, sent back to EPA.

I want to emphasize, however, this action does not impact Basin Electric’s efforts to seek a viable path forward in a carbon-constrained future. We are actively seeking solutions that reduce our carbon footprint while keeping coal as part of our energy portfolio, preserving both the reliability and cost-competitiveness of our members’ energy supply. In addition to our wind and natural gas investments, we are actively working to advance clean coal technology. Examples include hosting the Integrated Test Center at our Dry Fork Station, Gillette, WY, and our investments in research, most recently, in the development of a high-efficiency power generation technology that generates high quality carbon dioxide (CO2) as a product stream, along with participation in the U.S. Department of Energy’s CarbonSAFE program to further the science of CO2 sequestration in geological formations.

Basin Electric was born in politics. Our story is one of growth, innovation, and strength in numbers. We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished, but even prouder of what we WILL accomplish. Together.