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Dispute over which company gets to serve a new travel center in Drayton could be headed to court

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A dispute over which electric company will serve a new truck stop in Drayton could be going to court.

This, after the North Dakota Public Service Commission – on a 2 to 1 vote – sided with Otter Tail Power Company over Nodak Electric Co-Op.

The new Love’s Travel Center would be built in an area west of I-29. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kroshus says Love’s first approached Nodak – but eventually chose Otter Tail. The investor owned company had a franchise in the city of Drayton – and the city subsequently annexed the land where the Travel Center would be built.

Nodak argued it had already invested in lines to bring service to that area – and allowing Otter Tail to provide service would be unnecessary duplication.

Kroshus said Otter Tail and Nodak had a “service area agreement” in place that dates back to the 1960s.

"The precedence that this sets, in terms of annexation being used as a tool to supersede service-area agreements that are in-place throughout the state — that's a serious concern for me," Kroshus said. "That becomes a mechanism to essentially pull the rug out from underneath the rural electric utility. That would not promote orderly development in the state."

Kroshus was the lone vote for Nodak.

PSC Chairman Julie Fedorchak said the standard for orderly development is to prevent “unreasonable duplication” of service – and Nodak was unable to show this would be “unreasonable.”

"Nodak testified that it made investments, planning to serve the customer growth and future development in the area," Fedorchak said. "But they didn't provide any quantification on how much they invested in that area. So it was very difficult to weigh from them how much investment was at risk here."

Commissioner Randy Christmann sided with Fedorchak, because he believed the PSC did not have jurisdiction. But he said he was disappointed in Otter Tail walking away from that service area agreement.

"While that disappoints me more than words can say in that company — I certainly thought better of them — in this case, it's in someone else's jurisdiction," Christmann said. "I presume the courts."

No word yet from Nodak on whether it will take the case to court.