How We Serve: Operations Panel


people on a stage
Andy Buntrock, vice president of Strategic Planning and Communications; Troy Tweeten, senior vice president of Operations; Dale Johnson, vice president and plant manager at Dakota Gas; Valerie Weigel, vice president of Asset Management and Commodity Strategy; and Tom Christensen, senior vice president of Transmission, Engineering, and Construction. 

The Operations panel, entitled How We Serve, and moderated by Andy Buntrock, vice president of Strategic Planning and Communications, provided updates from four key panelists: Troy Tweeten, senior vice president of Operations; Dale Johnson, vice president and plant manager at Dakota Gas; Valerie Weigel, vice president of Asset Management and Commodity Strategy; and Tom Christensen, senior vice president of Transmission, Engineering, and Construction. 

Troy Tweeten shared how his team saved the cooperative money and increased revenue and margins in a number of ways. Maintenance costs were cut by doing more with in-house labor, and they did better managing contracts and awarding them by best value in relation to the defined scope of work. “A big cost savings came from improving the lime hydration in the ir quality Control system at Dry Fork Station,” said Tweeten. He also talked about the opportunity to sell their bottom ash, which usually costs money to dispose of, and turn it into a revenue stream back to members

Dale Johnson talked about the financial success of Dakota Gas. “We are very fortunate to have great market prices for virtually all of our commodities,” Johnson said. The plant has run very well, which is a testament to the focus on reliability. The marketing team has optimized revenue utilizing our natural gas transportation rights. Dakota Gas' relationship with N-7, LLC helps to move fertilizers into areas they might not otherwise be able to, and they also help find new customers and ensure there is a home for their product. 

Valerie Weigel said it was another exciting year in power markets, with new peak loads in Southwest Power Pool and some high market prices. “All the markets we operate in are under tightening capacity positions. This means while market participants are required to provide enough capacity or capability of generation to serve their loads, the ‘surplus’ that we have previously seen in markets is lessening,” said Weigel. They are also seeing more dispatchable energy being replaced by more intermittent resources. This creates more and more timeframes of high or volatile market prices. 

Tom Christensen discussed resource adequacy and generation retirements, and acknowledged recent changes and the cause for concern. “The grid functions based on the laws of physics, whether it’s the machinery in a coal plant, the combustion mechanics in a gas turbine, or the efficiency of wind turbines,” said Christensen. Cooperatives, as an industry, need to stress this issue: the laws of physics are immutable, non-negotiable, and not subject to the rules of man. Christensen went on to say that operators of the grid must abide by the law of physics and have generation available to meet demand even if the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.