Electric cooperatives accommodate growing demandMINOT (AP) — Rural electric cooperatives in the Minot region have been in a building mode for the past few years to try to keep ahead of the demand for electricity.
MINOT (AP) — Rural electric cooperatives in the Minot region have been in a building mode for the past few years to try to keep ahead of the demand for electricity.
They don't anticipate the growth slowing down anytime soon.
"We have been fortunate. We are not overwhelmed to the point that we can't handle it, but we do have two contractors working full-time with us in addition to our normal workers just to try to keep up," said Martin Dahl, general manager at McLean Electric Cooperative, Garrison.
The cooperative has two more contractors assigned to trimming trees away from power lines.
Closer to Minot, Verendrye Electric Cooperative last year added 374 new accounts, including apartments, houses, hotels and Minot's Great Plains Energy Park, said spokesman Tom Rafferty. Nearly 200 more new accounts had been added through this past summer.
A new Central Power substation in southwest Minot will help to service that extra electrical load.
"It will add some redundancy so it will strengthen our system and prepare our system for future growth," Rafferty said.
Substations are a gathering point for high-voltage electricity. The voltage is reduced and distributed across smaller distribution lines to homes and businesses. The new west Minot substation will provide backup power to north and south Minot as well as handle growth to the south.
Bruce Carlson, Verendrye general manager, said the question mark is how much more infrastructure will be needed to accommodate newly drilled wells as the oil industry moves farther east.
"The debate is, when are they coming and how many are we going to get? That's kind of the unknown," he said.
A consultant is studying that issue, and Verendrye is working on a plan with power suppliers Central Power Electric Cooperative and Basin Electric Power Cooperative for future transmission growth. Carlson said the plan should be finalized by next spring.
"We are on top of it and we certainly want to respond to any and all new oil activity in our service territory," Carlson said.
Basin Electric Cooperative expects to complete a new transmission line from Williston to Tioga by year's end. Construction began on the 61-mile, 230,000-volt line in May. The project includes about 405 tower structures and 981,000 feet of conductor and affects 103 landowners. The North Dakota Transmission Authority, through the Bank of North Dakota, has financed $15 million of the $26.5 million project.
Basin also brought its Culbertson station in Montana online in August. The station is a 95-megawatt, natural gas-fueled peaking station that will serve eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Dahl said McLean Electric's load is increasing due to oil activity. The cooperative picked up seven oil wells in the western McLean County and forecasts another 64 over the next five years. More transmission line and possibly a substation will be needed, he said. The cooperative has upgraded its transmission capacity but will need to access more electricity in the next year, he said.
"We will be out of capacity, probably next fall, out in that area unless we upgrade our transmission," he said.
Tom Meland, general manager at Central Power, said system improvements are planned for western McLean County, although serving oil companies moving into the area has its challenges.
"We are looking at making major investment to serve a community-based load that tends to be quite secretive and doesn't do a lot of long-range planning. So it's a difficult situation, where we are trying to anticipate where they might go and how fast and we are building an infrastructure to last 50 years," Meland said.
But he added, "We are excited to see it. We are looking forward to the opportunity to construct these facilities and provide services and are optimistic the load will be there to help us pay for them."
Dahl said oil companies are paying much of the up-front construction costs related to oil-field needs. Participation by Questar helped put in a new substation at Raub, which is expected to serve the oil field and a water plant at Parshall that is to come online during the first part of 2011.
The water plant is a large electricity user, even bigger than the first phase of an irrigation project to be built near Turtle Lake. The irrigation project has the equivalent electrical draw of 50 to 90 homes when in full operation.
With additional growth from new lake cabin sites, McLean Electric already has seen growth in electrical usage of 9.5 percent two years ago, 8 percent last year and 4 to 5 percent this year, even with conservation incentive programs in place.
Central Power was gearing up for the large Spearfish oil development in the Bottineau-Souris area, which was moving forward rapidly until recently slowing and giving electricity suppliers a breather.
"It gives us more time for that long-term, big improvement," Meland said. "We are still moving forward with some of those intermediate steps at this point."
Central Power this year is building a $4 million transmission substation south of Bottineau that should be complete by year's end. Plans are to begin next year to build a 33-mile transmission line from the substation to another substation at Newburg that will tie back into the Minot area.
"It will buy us a lot of capacity for future oil growth," Meland said. "We have engaged in planning studies for our member cooperatives' needs related to oil development for probably the last two to three years. We have developed some preliminary plans for the infrastructure we need. It appears to be quite significant, and we have forwarded those plans up to WAPA and Basin to make sure that our plans are integrated with theirs.
"If everything falls into place, we will look to start some major transmission construction next year and it will probably be a two- to three-year project," he added. "I think the plans that we have laid out for the next couple of years, assuming we can get all the necessary approvals, will keep up well ahead of any potential growth that we might foresee at this point."