Basin Electric GM says there are competitive issues with coal

Nov 14, 2017

Basin Electric GM Paul Sukut being interviewed by Prairie Public's Dave Thompson, as Basin director of communications and creative services Curt Pearson looks on (l).
Credit Tracie Bettenhausen / Basin Electric

The general manager of Basin Electric Power Cooperative said coal is facing continued challenges in the marketplace.

Paul Sukut said the challenge is coal’s competitiveness – by other sources, such as wind and natural gas.

"Our members made an investment 30 years ago in those coal plants," Sukut said in an interview with Prairie Public. "They still have debt, and they do have economic life. So we're challenges to try and tease as much economic life as we can out of them."

Sukut said in some cases, it may mean temporarily taking coal plants off-line.

"If a plant goes down for something, particularly at Leland Olds, we won't bring it back right away," Sukut said. "We can buy off the power market in a cheaper way for our membership."

But Sukut said in the immediate term, coal will still be a mainstay for power production. He says Basin will just have to watch costs.

Besides its lignite-fired mine-mouth plants in North Dakota, Basin has two coal plants in Wyoming.

Basin has broadened its generation portfolio.

"We're probably only about 45% coal," Sukut said. "The rest is basically wind and gas."

Sukut said one of the reasons for that is the load growth the co-op has seen over the past 10 years.

"We served it (that growth) by building wind and gas," Sukut said.

Sukut said you look at Basin's history, and you can see how the dynamics have changed.

"In the early 2000s, we were 80-85% coal," Sukut said.

Sukut said by the end of 2019, Basin will have 1700 megawatts of wind generation. And he said Basin has 550 megawatts of natural gas “peaking” plants in the Bakken.

Is Basin's load still growing?

"Yes, we are," Sukut said. "I would say it's probably half of what we'd experienced before. But there's still a growing demand in the Bakken."

Sukut said the growth isn’t limited to the Bakken. He said of Basin’s 11 districts, there’s only one that isn’t showing any growth.

"We are growing about double what the average utility in the United States is," Sukut said. "It's slower than it was, of course, about three years ago, when the Bakken was really up and going. But it's still growth."