Firm pipeline capacity instrumental during energy emergency

Great Plains Synfuels Plant
Great Plains Synfuels Plant.

The energy emergency across the midsection of the United States Feb. 14-20 will be discussed and investigated for months, and likely years to come. And with that, all the components that work together to deliver energy to each members’ homes, businesses, and ranches will be reviewed.

Dakota Gasification Company’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant in Beulah, North Dakota, fits uniquely in the picture as it produces natural gas as well as having firm capacity on the Northern Border Pipeline, a pipeline used to transport natural gas to the market. It also feeds many of Basin Electric’s North Dakota and South Dakota natural gas electrical generation facilities and was instrumental during the February event – keeping those facilities producing electricity during a critical time.

In February, the Synfuels Plant was producing natural gas that was desperately needed. Cold weather shut in many gas producers, but not the Synfuels Plant. Daniel Schaff Gallagher, Basin Electric manager of commodity sales and trading, says because the Synfuels Plant produces gas and has firm capacity of nearly 80,000 dekatherms on the Northern Border Pipeline, it made procuring the gas to transport to the cooperative’s gas-fueled units more efficient. “More efficient because we are producing, transporting, and consuming natural gas, so as traders we are able to manage that situation more cost-effectively than if we were only buying a lot of natural gas,” Gallagher says. “We can serve some of our own generation using our own production, so looking at it from a physical standpoint, the portfolio provides more options to manage the position effectively and efficiently.”

Gallagher says for natural gas purchases, there were other ways to capture value, as well.

“In SPP (Southwest Power Pool), we have physically purchased natural gas for the North Dakota units that we have available that was financially hedged. So we had purchases for the northern gas units that were significantly lower than spot market prices,” he says.

The highest fixed price natural gas purchases in the Ventura market were around $500/million British thermal units (mmbtu) – normal winter prices are around $3-$4/mmbtu. Gallagher says in Oklahoma there were daily gas prices as high as $1,200/mmbtu due to the trouble cold weather caused in the southern United States.

Three draglines shut down (saved 6 megawatts) + Synfuels Plant conserved power (saved 10.5 megawatts) = Kept power on in 12,800 homes

Dakota Gas also played a role in shedding load during the energy emergency. In addition to load being shed quickly by members, some large load was voluntarily shed within Basin Electric and Dakota Gas’ operations.

At the Synfuels Plant, power use was reduced by about 8 megawatts in the gas path for several hours, which was accomplished without reducing natural gas production.

Vice President and Synfuels Plant Manager Dale Johnson says the plant was in close communication with Basin Electric Class C member Roughrider Electric Cooperative in Hazen, North Dakota.

“We were asked how the plant could help with load shedding. After some frantic phone calls, Dakota Gas was able to minimize the urea plant rate and save about 2.5 megawatts (MW), which is on the Roughrider Electric system. It happened very quickly, and we were happy to help,” Johnson says.

In total, Dakota Gas was able to save 10.5 MW of power.

At the nearby Freedom Mine in Beulah, North Dakota, all three draglines were shut down from Feb. 15-19, which saved a little more than 6 MW in the Roughrider Electric system. This, together with the load shed at the Synfuels Plant, allowed power to be kept on in 12,800 homes.

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