Cooperative power driving American energy security
by todd telesz
Cooperative power made American energy security and independence possible. I feel confident making that statement, and I think you’ll agree.
Let’s start with recent history and the coal bed methane surge in Wyoming in the early 2000s. Basin Electric’s membership built the Dry Fork Station, a $1.2 billion coal-based power plant near Gillette, Wyoming, in support of that load.
Not long after coal bed methane began to surge, the ethanol industry started building in earnest when the Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in 2005. Today, the cooperative family serves 32 ethanol plants which account for more than 250 megawatts of additional load. That figure does not include the economic growth in the region that flourished with these facilities. Basin Electric and its membership invested hundreds of millions of dollars to add transmission and interconnection points, and generation including natural gas-based and wind generation, to generate the power necessary to transform corn into fuel and serve additional residential and agricultural load, and the ancillary services that go along with that type of growth.
Within the same decade, the Bakken oil region in western North Dakota and eastern Montana began a boom that continues to rumble to this day. To date, the Basin Electric family has invested more than $1 billion into the region in natural gas-based generation and high-voltage transmission to support the incredible volume of additional load required to develop that shale. We anticipate replicating this level of investment in our generation and transmission portfolios over the course of this decade in servicing the energy and other industrial sectors.
Electric power and the Basin Electric family of cooperatives have supported the energy security and independence of our nation for decades. Electric cooperatives were built by farmers and ranchers who worked together to bring electricity to areas where investor-owned utilities would not go. We are rooted in the mission to serve rural areas as a whole, to build something bigger than any one of us could do alone.
The tenacity of our founders, the drive of the men and women who brought electricity to rural America and then gathered to form this co-op of co-ops called Basin Electric, has all led to substantial growth and economic development opportunities beyond our membership.
Take oil, for example. In 2018, the United States became the largest oil producer in the world at nearly 4 billion barrels per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, surpassing both Saudi Arabia and Russia for the first time since the late 1990s. In November 2019, the United States became a net exporter of oil.
Data at the North Dakota Petroleum Council shows that from 2005 to 2021 North Dakota’s field production of crude oil increased from 35.6 million barrels per year to 393.8 million barrels per year — that’s more than a 1,000% increase. Oil domestically produced from the breadbasket of the United States rather than foreign countries is perhaps our greatest stake in the ground for energy independence.
It is not a stretch to say our investment of a billion dollars to support the Bakken shale boom was responsible for boosting our nation to that record-setting level of production. In April 2014, North Dakota began producing 1 million barrels of oil per day. Currently, North Dakota is third in the nation for oil production, behind only Texas and New Mexico.
The Basin Electric family of cooperatives is also supporting the capture of flare gas from new oil wells in North Dakota. There are 30 natural gas processing units operating in North Dakota, and in 2021, 93% of the gas produced by Bakken wells was captured and sold. This natural gas also provides a source for lower-priced gas for our natural gas-based generation facilities due to abundant supply in the area.
Pipeline transportation of oil is supported by Basin Electric’s membership as well. The pumping stations along existing pipelines are powered by homegrown cooperative generation.
Our network of wires, poles, and power plants has built what our nation needed to thrive without the influence of foreign countries that are not aligned with America’s interests at home and abroad. And our all-of-the-above energy portfolio, a time- and stress-tested strategy utilizing a diverse set of technologies and domestic fuel sources, ensures the engine that feeds and fuels our nation remains reliable, affordable, and responsible.
Since 1961, Basin Electric and its members have built an extensive power grid to energize the Upper Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest, and beyond. We will continue to power the nation through our immediate membership and the energy production our electricity has made possible.
Our generation and transmission, and the people who can influence and imagine the future of our industry, will continue to bolster the reliability of the power we provide for an energy-secure and energy-independent future that provides the foundation for a thriving, world-leading economy.