Daring to innovate: 60 years of ambition

Basin Electric has had the privilege of serving rural Americans for 60 years. The cooperative has been able to meet the needs of members and end-of-the-line consumers by prioritizing innovation and taking chances. From environmental impacts to new ways to generate power, here’s a look back at some of the pivotal decisions that made Basin Electric the successful cooperative it is today.

Bold enough to begin

Back in the early 1960s, large cities and businesses had electricity, but much of the rural areas of the Northern Great Plains were still left in the dark. Basin Electric’s story started with the farmers and ranchers of the Upper Great Plains 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.

historical photo of tractor
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.

Tying it together

Basin Electric announced a joint project with Class A member Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (headquartered in Denver, Colorado) to build a 100-megawatt (MW) direct current (DC) tie in Stegall, Nebraska. This was the nation’s first DC tie linking the eastern and western transmission systems.

Harnessing the sun

Basin Electric’s first solar project began in May 1978 when the co-op installed solar collector plates near the then 67,000 square-foot Headquarters building. You can read more about this solar heating project in the LiveWire blog post: https://bit.ly/TBT-solar. Today, Basin Electric has solar power purchase agreements in South Dakota and Montana.

historical photo of people touring solar panels
A tour of the 270 double glass solar collectors at Headquarters in 1978.

Linking interconnections

Laramie River Station is part of the Missouri Basin Power Project (a partnership with originally six and today five electric utilities) that provides power to homes and businesses in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The project includes Laramie River Station, Grayrocks Reservoir, and high-voltage transmission lines. Laramie River Station is unique because it delivers electricity to two separate electrical grids. Unit 1 is connected to the Eastern Interconnection, while units 2 and 3 are connected to the Western Interconnection.

Moving into mining

Basin Electric moved into mine management in 1982 when it assumed responsibility for the ownership and operation of the Glenharold Mine, the lignite source for Leland Olds Station until 1993. Again, Basin Electric pioneered another first for a rural electric entity by forming a subsidiary, Basin Cooperative Services, in 1982 to manage the mine and other non-electric utility functions.

historical photo of dragline
The dragline at Glenharold Mine in 1984.

Purchasing a plant

When the company that owned the Great Plains Synfuels Plant went bankrupt, it turned the plant over to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The Great Plains Synfuels Plant is one of only two gasification plants in the world (the other one is in South Africa) and the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the United States that manufactures natural gas. The plant purchased its power directly from Basin Electric. The cooperative’s members discussed what would happen if the plant shut down permanently: the employees would lose their jobs and Basin Electric would lose millions of dollars a year in lost revenue from electric sales, including shared resources of coal and water related to Antelope Valley Station. On Aug. 5, 1988, DOE announced that Basin Electric was the successful bidder for the plant. Since Basin Electric purchased it, Dakota Gas has brought the membership a total benefit of $800 million-plus, resulting in bill credits and lower rates.

"The Great Plains Project will not solve all of our energy needs, but it is a significant source of fuel, and therefore it is imperative to ensure that the project is owned by someone committed to its long-term operation."
North Dakota Rep. Byron Dorgan (1981-1992)

Diversifying revenue

Innovative thinking led to byproduct expansions at Dakota Gas, ultimately resulting in significant dividends for Basin Electric and the membership. The first anhydrous ammonia plant from North Dakota lignite-derived synthesis gas was commissioned at the Synfuels Plant in 1996. Then in 1997, the flue gas desulfurization unit became the first commercial application of General Electric’s ammonia scrubber technology.

historical photo of construction of ammonia towers
Workers assemble the original ammonia towers in 1996.

Focusing on carbon capture

In 2000, the Synfuels Plant commissioned the first capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from a coal process energy facility. The three CO2 compressors are serial numbers one, two, and three. The Synfuels Plant supplies CO2 to one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan, Canada, and has sent 41 million metric tons of CO2 to date. The plant captures about 2 million metric tons of CO2 each year.

Capturing wind

In 2020, 25.3% of Basin Electric's generation comes from wind, or 1,776.4 megawatts of wind.

In 2001, Basin Electric and Class A member East River Electric Power Cooperative (headquartered in Madison, South Dakota) jointly brought the first two wind turbines to South Dakota, located in Chamberlain. Today, Basin Electric owns and operates two wind projects that are the largest owned solely by a cooperative in the United States: the 162-MW Crow Lake Wind Project in South Dakota and the 115.5-MW PrairieWinds 1 in North Dakota. The turbines are the first GE turbines in the United States to have service lifts installed.

Responding to the membership

Encouraged by its member systems, Basin Electric resolved to obtain renewable resources equal to 10% of the megawatt capacity needed to meet member demand by 2010.

Wind-to-hydrogen

One of the first demonstration projects of wind-to-hydrogen technology, located near Minot, North Dakota, was completed by Basin Electric, the Department of Energy, and other partners. The project investigated the potential for storage of wind-generated electricity by using wind energy to power a commercial hydrogen generator to separate the hydrogen and oxygen contained in water. The hydrogen was then stored and used as transportation fuel. This plant was recently decommissioned and dismantled.

CO2 removal for electric generation units

Basin Electric was the first utility in the nation to issue a request for proposals from CO2 removal technology providers. As a result, Basin Electric completed a front-end engineering and design study exploring the feasibility of capturing CO2 from its Antelope Valley Station. Basin Electric is currently engaged with regional partners for the Department of Energy’s CarbonSAFE program. The goal of the program is to develop long-term CO2 sequestration solutions.

A site for research

In 2016, officials broke ground on the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC) at Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station, which provides space for researchers to develop commercially viable uses for CO2 emissions from coal-based power plants. Dry Fork Station was the first Basin Electric coal plant to install activated carbon injection for mercury removal and selective catalytic reduction with ammonia injection for control of nitrogen oxides. It is now using amended silicates to remove mercury as well. The ITC recently surpassed $100 million in research and development funding to tenants to advance carbon capture and carbon utilization research.

"People who once were banging on the gates of coal-fired plants saying we need to shut these down will soon be banging on the gates saying, ‘We want in because we want all the product, we want the CO2 (carbon dioxide)."
Wyoming governor Matt Mead (2011-2019)

Going underground

In 2017, Basin Electric became a partner in North Dakota Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise (CarbonSAFE) and participated in a CarbonSAFE pre-feasibility project in Wyoming. The CarbonSAFE initiative was implemented by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop commercial-scale carbon capture and storage complexes. Basin Electric chose to continue supporting Wyoming CarbonSAFE as it advances in phase 3.

men in construction hats looking at a drill bit
Extracting sediment samples from a Wyoming test well in 2019.

Pioneering fertilizer in North Dakota

The first and only urea production facility in North Dakota was built at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant. It produced urea for the first time on Jan. 19, 2018. Urea added to the fertilizer line-up which already included anhydrous ammonia and ammonium sulfate. The plant also has the ability to shift urea production to produce diesel exhaust fluid.

pair of hands holding urea
Urea is the most widely traded fertilizer in the word.