A day in the life of Senior Fleet and Logistics Administrator Nathan Johnson

We’ve all experienced inconveniences because of supply chain issues, product and worker shortages, and the COVID-19 global pandemic. But when your job is ensuring the delivery of every piece of equipment necessary to run facilities that provide power for 3 million people, the pressure can be significant.

Nathan Johnson is Basin Electric’s senior fleet and logistics administrator, managing orders from when Procurement makes a purchase to when that purchase is delivered to one of Basin Electric’s generation facilities. He coordinates freight for items as small as an o-ring that can be shipped in a UPS package to motors that weigh tens of thousands of pounds and need to be hauled overseas using a barge, then shipped the rest of the way by truck or train. Making sure an item is where it needs to be by the time it is needed is his job, as is holding vendors to what they said they can deliver.

Johnson says his goal is always to minimize the landed cost of a shipment, meaning what it costs to get a part or equipment to one of the facilities.

Nathan Johnson
Nathan Johnson, Basin Electric senior fleet and logistics administrator.

“I work with employees at our facilities to find out when they need the equipment they ordered, then with trucking companies to coordinate schedules and come up with the best possibilities to get it there on time,” Johnson says. “It’s important to communicate our expectations and let them know where it needs to be and whose hands it needs to be in when it gets there.”

This is especially important during spring and fall maintenance outages. Any delays can end up costing the cooperative, and ultimately its members, a significant amount of money.

In addition to coordinating with outside freight vendors, Johnson works with fellow employees in special situations. Earlier this spring, a motor at Leland Olds Station (LOS) experienced issues requiring replacement parts. “The people at LOS were able to keep the unit running using the existing motor until someone in Procurement could find a replacement part, which they did … in Alabama,” Johnson says. “I knew we could use Co-op Air (one of Basin Electric’s airplanes) to transport it if it was within the weight and size requirements, which luckily it was. The flight took place on a weekend I had (National Guard) drill so Nick Roemmich (Basin Electric contract administrator) coordinated the end of that deal. At the end of the day, the difference between air and ground was about eight hours, but to have a unit down for those eight hours would cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it was definitely worth spending a little more by using our plane.”

Johnson says Ryan Anderson, Basin Electric manager of aviation, and his crew are “phenomenal” to work with whenever Procurement calls upon them. “They have made things happen for us on a number of occasions,” he says. In addition to Basin Electric’s Aviation team, he says the vendor in Alabama was “gracious enough” to bring the equipment to the airport when the plane was scheduled to land. “Finding the right people who are willing to go the extra mile is a really cool part of my job,” Johnson says.

He says the last two years have been a challenge with the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues. “Right now things either go really smoothly or get really frustrating,” he says.

Johnson remembers in late 2020 and early 2021 when he’d know when the next port call was, when the next ship was scheduled to be at the port, and that it had space, but then they’d miss the port calls because there wasn’t enough freight on the ship to warrant a stop. “Our stuff would be waiting there and the ship just sailed past. We’d have no choice but to wait until the next port call and hope we’d catch them the next time through,” he says.

That same situation continues today. He says there is one item in particular that has been waiting on the East Coast for several months. “It’s an 81,000-pound motor we can’t just move with a typical trailer and driver,” Johnson says. “The world is playing two years’ worth of catch-up, and with worker shortages that is really impacting the freight industry.”

He says when the pandemic was at its peak, demand was so low that freight rates were below $2/mile. Today, they’re ranging from $4.50-$7.50/mile.

With that significant increase in freight rates, Basin Electric has had to start pushing quotes to the open market. In the past, the co-op had negotiated rates with companies it had good relationships with, but it was necessary to review those costs to ensure the co-op was getting the best rates.

With that said, it isn’t only about who comes in at the lowest bid.

For example, when cleaning out his files a few years ago Johnson says he found a transportation company the co-op used years ago. “I looked into the company, and it was one that provided a hot-shot, need-it-yesterday kind of service, a niche we’re always looking for,” he says. “We reached out to them and they’ve been phenomenal. They’ve probably saved Basin Electric hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars because they’re a good vendor who provides a good service. They’re loyal and work hard at what they do to please their customers.”

That company is a lot like Basin Electric’s Procurement team, Johnson says. “I may be biased, but I truly believe that some of the best and brightest people at Basin Electric work in Procurement,” he says. “They’re constantly on the ball making things happen for the plants and working to find ways to bring costs down. They are consummate professionals and I am lucky to work with them because they do their jobs for the good of the co-op and its members.”