Basin Electric’s approach to serving our members is this: provide power that is responsible, reliable, and affordable.
Responsible means keeping our employees safe and protecting the environment for generations to come. We are proud to say we started adding renewables to our portfolio 20 years ago, have added 1,700 megawatts of wind energy since, and will soon add diversity to our renewable portfolio with solar, which is now advanced enough to fit our members’ needs.
Reliable power means our members can count on their generation and transmission cooperative to supply the power they need to deliver to their members. For Basin Electric and our growing membership, that also means a commitment to traditional baseload sources to supply power when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. To be responsible with our continued baseload generation, the cooperative invests in research and technology to find ways to better protect the environment.
As a cooperative, being able to deliver power affordably means we understand people can’t give more of their money to an electricity bill. It is our duty to provide power to these members at a rate that doesn’t cause undue hardship. And, with the increasing push toward expensive technology that protects our environment, Basin Electric must find a balance between cost and benefit to the environment.
Basin Electric is in a unique position, different from most other generation and transmission cooperatives in the nation, in that the cooperative has been consistently, and in some years, quickly, growing. Basin Electric’s load grew almost 50% in the last decade, and 80% of this growth was met with wind, natural gas, and market purchases.
Basin Electric made the strategic decision to join a regional transmission organization in 2015. The Southwest Power Pool is a 14-state area power pool, or market, in which participants are able to both buy and sell their power. The purpose of the market is to provide the lowest possible cost power to serve load. How the market compensates the cooperative’s generation is based on many things, including short-term generation costs such as fuel, proximity to load, and transmission availability. Basin Electric must provide cost information to the market for each unit. The market uses this information to dispatch power to serve its load.
Market participation increases power source optionality for Basin Electric. Each day Basin Electric balances power available in the market through long-term power purchase agreements and owned generation to serve its members at the lowest possible cost while maintaining reliability.
Wind is currently the lowest cost power for meeting energy needs in the market. And because natural gas prices are at extremely low levels, it can be a challenge for coal-based resources to compete with natural gas peaking stations that can be turned on and off quickly to follow wind in meeting market demand.
Despite the good attributes of wind and solar, reliability cannot be ignored: wind only generates when the wind is blowing and temperatures allow the turbines to operate, and solar only generates when the sun is shining. Until economical and proven battery storage technology is commercially available, wind and solar cannot be considered reliable.
Although coal generation is less flexible, it is extremely reliable and efficient, especially because most of Basin Electric’s power plants are located adjacent to coal mines, which eliminates the costs to transport the fuel. Coal-based generation is considered more reliable as it is the only power generation where several days of fuel is stored on site.
Basin Electric’s all-of-the-above energy strategy means the cooperative isn’t limited to one source of energy; this approach means lower-cost, intermittent renewable sources are used when available and balanced with other baseload resources such as coal and natural gas, which provide affordable reliability.
As Basin Electric continues to evaluate its generation resource mix, coal generation units are increasingly under social, political, and economic pressure. Basin Electric is committed to operating these facilities as responsibly as possible for as long as they remain a viable resource to the membership. Also, Basin Electric has a continued commitment to incorporate other energy resources into its portfolio when it makes economic sense, and does not adversely affect reliability.
This all-of-the-above strategy has proven to be a smart one for two decades.
Renewables on the horizon
In 2020, Basin Electric added more renewable energy to its future portfolio, most notably, solar. Solar energy is now competitive in our market, and it provides generation during the daytime, when the cooperative’s system peaks. It also works well with our generation profile as solar generates the most power when wind is generating the least, and vice versa.
The following projects are in development.
Wild Springs Solar Project (South Dakota) 128 MW
Basin Electric and Geronimo Energy, a National Grid company, announced on Feb. 18 the execution of a power purchase agreement (PPA) for the Wild Springs Solar Project. Wild Springs is located in Pennington County, South Dakota. Once operational, Wild Springs will be the largest solar project in South Dakota, and is anticipated to be operational in 2022.
West River Solar Project (South Dakota) 20 MW
Basin Electric and West River Solar announced the execution of a PPA for the West River Solar Project on Dec. 2. When completed in 2022, the project will consist of two projects in Pennington County.
Cabin Creek Solar Project (Montana) 150 MW
Basin Electric and Clēnera Renewable Energy announced on June 15 the execution of a PPA for the Cabin Creek Solar Project. When completed in late 2023, Cabin Creek will consist of two projects in southeastern Montana.
"This project is one more example of cooperatives working together to use economies of scale to add affordable generation for all their members — similar to what was done 70 years ago when cooperatives were first built."
Jack Hamblin, manager of Southeast Electric Cooperative, a Class C member, on Cabin Creek Solar
"Our cooperative network is always looking to ensure we have a mix of power resources to meet the needs of our membership and renewable energy is an important part of that strategy."
Vic Simmons, general manager of Rushmore Electric, a Class A member, on Wild Springs and West River Solar
"This solar energy project will benefit our cooperative family, as well as our local communities. As not-for-profit co-ops that are owned by our members, everything we do goes back to the people we serve."
Dick Johnson, CEO and general manager of West River Electric Association, a Class C member, on Wild Springs and West River Solar
Ash pond environmental upgrades
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Coal Combustion Residuals Rule, which took effect in October 2015, establishes standards for the disposal of solid waste in landfills and surface impoundments.
The three coal units at Laramie River Station located near Wheatland, Wyoming, are subject to the rule.
Basin Electric is in the process of reconstructing two bottom ash ponds, as well an emergency holding pond. The cooperative worked with an engineering firm to develop a plan for remediation on one of the ponds, which was found to have a minor seepage leak. The method chosen involves the use of proven, reliable groundwater pumping technology and is expected to restore the underlying aquifer faster than other alternatives. It’s important to note that the leak did not extend beyond the plant site, and did not impact anyone’s water, wells, or residents downstream.
All documents related to Basin Electric’s compliance of this rule can be found at basinelectric.com.
Investment in innovation and environment
Our Dry Fork Station, a coal-based power plant near Gillette, Wyoming, is incubating innovation for managing carbon emissions, and helping keep an all-of-the-above energy strategy a part of the cooperative’s future.
The Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC), located on the Dry Fork site, provides space for researchers to test carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration technologies using 20 megawatts of flue gas diverted from the operating power plant. In March, the Wyoming ITC received a climate leadership award for work in carbon capture and sequestration. The Wyoming ITC can host multiple research teams, or tenants, at any given time.
The tenants are competing for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, a $20 million global competition to develop breakthrough technologies that will convert carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into valuable products. All five teams involved in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition at the Wyoming ITC are now compiling their results, and the winners are expected to be announced in 2021.
Other researchers are using the facility for testing outside of the competition. The Wyoming ITC is possible due to a partnership between Basin Electric, Class A member Tri-State G&T Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the State of Wyoming. The site celebrated its dedication ceremony in May 2018.
The Wyoming CarbonSAFE (Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise) Project, also located at Dry Fork Station, is investigating the feasibility of underground CO2 emissions storage from coal-based electric generation facilities. CarbonSAFE officially launched its Phase 3 in October.
Funding for Phase 3 was approved in April, when the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources and its partners received a $15.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Basin Electric has contributed $1.5 million, and the University of Wyoming has contributed $2.4 million. The School of Energy Resources’ Center for Economic Geology Research is facilitating the project.
If the projected success of Phase 3 comes to fruition, the venture will advance to
Phase 4 of the initiative, which would involve permitting and construction of an actual storage complex. CarbonSAFE is among 13 original carbon capture, utilization, and storage project sites in the United States.
Carbon capture experts
Dakota Gasification Company is Basin Electric’s largest subsidiary, and owns the only commercial-scale coal-to-natural gas facility in the United States. In 2000, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, located near Beulah, North Dakota, started capturing carbon dioxide (CO2).
Dakota Gas and its Canadian subsidiary, Souris Valley Pipeline Ltd., operate a
205-mile pipeline to transport the CO2 from the Synfuels Plant to Saskatchewan for enhanced oil recovery.
In 2018, the Synfuels Plant began producing urea, a fertilizer, to add to a long list of value-added products derived from the coal gasification process.
Whether it is the petrochemical products or the fertilizer products, each diversification over the years was completed to help better the bottom line while continuing to provide a coal benefit to Basin Electric. The coal benefit is attributable to the coal mine-sharing arrangement that reduces coal cost at Basin Electric’s lignite generation facilities. Eliminating coal usage at Dakota Gas would shift fixed coal costs directly to those generation facilities.
In recent years, the plant has faced challenges due to continued dramatically low commodity prices.
Today, employees are in the early stages of determining the feasibility of adding a primary reformer to the Synfuels Plant. A pre-FEED (front-end engineering and design) study has been completed with promising results, and a full FEED study is set to begin in May 2021.
Adding a primary reformer at the Synfuels Plant would allow the facility to continue fertilizer production with or without the continuation of the coal gasification process. Even without the coal gasification operation, in addition to urea and anhydrous ammonia, certain other products at the facility could continue to be produced.
The water, power, rail service, and pipelines on site are a tremendous resource that could be redeployed in a variety of ways. Our plan is that these assets can serve to protect the membership’s investment, and lead to continued reliable, responsible, and affordable power for the cooperative’s members.
"We’re moving toward a world that’s heading toward [green] electrification, and that’s attracted of lot of competitors that are all looking to get into your space, but they all need execution capacity and partners to actually deliver the electrons. … I think you are well positioned to take advantage of these megatrends around the green stimulus and ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance]-driven, low-carbon transition."
Robert Johnston, Eurasia Group, Global Energy and Natural Resources
Industrial assistance for COVID-19 impacts
Dakota Gas hit a milestone in July when its first shipment of beverage-grade carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from the Great Plains Synfuels Plant’s ammonia production facility was shipped. The ability to capture and sell liquid CO2 was made possible with the addition of the urea plant, and excess CO2 is now being sold into the commercial food and beverage industry.
The first load was used to help balance pH levels in the water at water treatment plants in North Dakota, which were near an emergency state due to a shortage of CO2. The shortage occurred because ethanol plants had curtailed their production (due to low oil prices) and were not producing CO2.
In December, Dakota Gas assisted with preparation to get the COVID-19 vaccine distributed to North Dakota residents by supplying beverage-grade liquefied CO2 produced at the Synfuels Plant to aid in keeping the vaccine at the recommended stored temperature. Dakota Gas is supplying liquefied CO2 to help pressure and fill the new liquid CO2 storage tank for the North Dakota Department of Health in Bismarck.