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ND PSC holds hearings regarding electricity to the northwest

Hearings are under way on a proposed 200-mile transmission line designed to meet the increased demand for electricity in northwestern North Dakota.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission held hearings Wednesday in Killdeer and Thursday in Tioga on a request from Basin Electric Power Cooperative to construct a $300 million transmission project from Antelope Valley Station near Beulah to the Neset 230-kilovolt Substation east of Tioga. A final hearing will be held Sept. 12 at 10 a.m. in City Hall in Williston.

The transmission line is mapped to run west from Antelope Valley, crossing just north of Killdeer and continuing toward U.S. Highway 85, where it veers to the northwest toward Williston. From Williston, the line runs northeast to the Neset substation east of Tioga. The 345-kilovolt transmission line would interconnect with the existing Charlie Creek Substation near Grassy Butte and with the Western Area Power Administration’s Williston Substation. Two new substations would be built near Williston and near the current Neset 230-kilovolt Substation.

Some residents of the Killdeer area have raised concern about the path, which crosses through a historical battlefield in the Killdeer Mountains. The cooperative eliminated a proposed substation near Killdeer in response to concerns about the battleground. The substation could be relocated to another area at a future time, said Mary Miller, communications manager at Basin Electric, Bismarck.

Although pleased with the decision on the substation, members of Killdeer Mountain Alliance, a conservation group, still believe the power line route should be changed.

“It is such an assault on the whole idea of our nation’s history, of what that battle was about and the memories of those who fought and died,” said Rob Sand, co-chairman of the alliance, Killdeer. “It’s hard to understand that they can’t reroute to steer clear of this battlefield.”

The Killdeer Mountain Battlefield consists of about 70,000 acres or 26 square miles that was the site of one of the U.S. government’s largest battles against native tribes. It involved Gen. Alfred Sully and Lakota and Dakota tribes in 1864.

Sand said the area continues to be part of archeological studies.

He added that testimony from a wildlife biologist also is expected at the Williston hearing on the impact of the transmission project on golden eagles, which have three nesting areas in the Killdeer Mountains.

“We intend to move forward with the line route as sited in the application,” Miller said. “We have been working on it for quite some time and have about 75 percent of the private landowners’ easements in place.”

Some state land is involved and those easements also have been falling into place, she said.

Barring delays in the permitting process, Basin Electric plans to begin construction in 2014 and complete work in 2016.

“By 2025, our system is predicted to grow by more than 1,600 megawatts. More than 1,000 of that is attributed just to this area,” Miller said of northwestern North Dakota. One megawatt of generating capacity can support an average 800 homes.

“The continuous growth taking place in western North Dakota is unprecedented,” Miller said. “Obviously, it has put a strain on our system and will require additional transmission to continue to serve that entire area with reliable electricity. It’s important that we be able to add this line to maintain reliability and continue service.”

Daryl Hill, manager of media and community relations for Basin Electric, said the demand in northwestern North Dakota comes from a combination of electrical use in the oil fields and population growth.

The proposed transmission is just part of the solution to meeting the demand, he said. Basin Electric recently started up a 45-megawatt natural gas power plant northwest of Williston as the first of three plants to be established there by early 2015. At the end of November, Basin Electric expects to have another unit near Watford City on line and eventually plans to add two more units.

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