Basin Electric to add megawatts at Pioneer Generation Station

Artist rendering of the electric generation project near Pioneer Generation Station.

Electricity is increasingly the power of choice. It’s quick, easy, and clean when you plug in a cord or flip a switch. We charge our tablets and our cars, and store data on computers using electricity. We use electricity to make highly volatile money (cryptocurrency), and electricity may soon be powering our natural gas and carbon dioxide sequestration pipelines.

All this shows in our load forecast. According to the 2023 Basin Electric Member Load Forecast, 92% of Basin Electric’s distribution cooperative members are growing.

But even before the latest forecast was released in January, the cooperative saw that building new generation to keep electricity reliable for our membership was a necessity.

Therefore, Basin Electric is pursuing its largest singlesite electric generation project since the 1980s. The cooperative plans to construct about 600 megawatts (MW) of natural gas generation near the existing Pioneer Generation Station northwest of Williston, North Dakota.

The project will be referred to as Pioneer Generation Station Phase IV (PGSIV). Preliminary estimates place the budget at approximately $780 million, which includes both generation and transmission assets.

Jim Lund, Basin Electric senior mechanical engineer and project coordinator, says PGSIV will address near-term load growth and long-term grid stability in the Bakken region.

“The first phase of the project includes one simple-cycle combustion turbine, which will produce up to 250 MW, a series of reciprocating engines totaling about 110 MW, and 15 miles of 345-kilovolt transmission, all to be in service in 2025,” Lund says. “The second phase includes an additional simple-cycle combustion turbine to produce up to 250 MW to be in service in 2026.”

Gavin McCollam, Basin Electric senior vice president and chief operating officer, says having the units online by 2025 and 2026 is a quick timeline helped out by work completed a few years back. “In 2019 and 2020, we assembled a team to work on a generation facility that was planned but never ultimately built. We were able to take employees who were on that team and roll them into this work on PGSIV today,” McCollam says. “They were able to get their feet back underneath them and get to work quickly.”

In Basin Electric’s Procurement division, risks are being managed in a number of ways. Lindsay Kostelecky, Basin Electric senior contract administrator, says the cooperative negotiated logistics terms in which the equipment manufacturer has taken on the risk of delivery. “The equipment manufacturer is responsible for delivering the assets to the Pioneer Generation Station site, and they are taking on the risk of delivery over ocean, on rail, and to site, and then taking liquidated damages to those delivery dates as well,” Kostelecky says.

Troy Tweeten, Basin Electric senior vice president of Operations, say the new generation will need about 15 additional employees for operation and maintenance, and the new team members will be added in phases. “During the first half of 2023, we’ll bring on seven new employees who can be a resource to the design and construction teams as they learn the design and operation details of the new equipment, and then another three or four new employees before the end of the year,” Tweeten says. “In 2024, we would add the remaining five or six employees as we approach the commissioning and start-up of the project. With the addition of the new turbines and engines, the Pioneer Generation Station will become a facility that has employees on-site 24-hours a day rather than strictly day shifts.”

PGSIV was approved by the Basin Electric board of directors at their September 2022 meeting. The North Dakota Public Service Commission (NDPSC) held a public hearing on Jan. 5 to consider awarding a Certificate of Site Compatibility Permit for the new generation facility. The hearing provided an opportunity for the public to voice support or concerns regarding the project. Representatives from Basin Electric Class A member Upper Missouri Power Cooperative, Basin Electric Class C member Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, and a local labor union testified in support of the project. No one spoke in opposition. Both Upper Missouri Power and Mountrail-Williams Electric are Basin Electric member cooperatives that serve the Bakken region. On Feb. 8, the NDPSC approved the Certificate of Site Compatibility for PGSIV.

The project will include a new switchyard, 15-mile transmission line, and operations and maintenance buildings on site. Additional permits for the transmission aspects of the project will be required before construction can begin.

The last time Basin Electric constructed a project of this size was Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, North Dakota, when the 450-MW first unit began commercial operation in 1984.

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