By Bryce Martin
N.D. Group Editor
As a sign of the times in Dunn County, another change is quickly approaching – one that will permanently change the way certain residents receive electricity to their homes and businesses.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service on Sept. 13 signed a record of decision enabling Basin Electric Power Cooperative to begin construction on multiple transmission lines in western North Dakota.
With the public input phase complete, Basin Electric Power Cooperative proceeds with plans to construct approximately 195 miles of 345-kilovolt electrical transmission lines that would cross Dunn County, with additions to a couple substations and creation of one new substation.
The $300 million project was named the Antelope Valley Station-to-Neset 345-kilovolt transmission line project.
The USDA’s decision followed a meeting Sen. John Hoeven organized in March to bring together Basin Electric, Rural Utility Service, Forest Service, Central Power Cooperative and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders to help resolve transmission line routing disputes in order to bring more critical power online in western North Dakota.
The meeting helped Basin Electric and RUS work through issues concerning the ROD.
The Bismarck-based utility company heard public comment on its plans in Killdeer and Williston last year. Held by the Rural Utilities Services (RUS), those hearings were meant to provide an opportunity for public input on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which detailed potential effects from the project for a multitude of factors.
There were about 28 people in attendance at the Killdeer meeting in 2013, many of whom were representatives of electric cooperatives that are members of Basin Electric. Several landowners were in attendance, as well as members of the Badlands Conservation Alliance.
Robert Ferebee, who lives and farms two miles south of Halliday, is a landowner who voiced his concern over the project – mainly because of the compensation agreement Basin Electric offered for placing lines on his land.
“What it’s going through is going to effect both the way I farm and how I can run my cattle,” Ferebee said. “It’s going to be a great eyesore. And I’m going to have to work around it everyday.”
Basin Electric offered Ferebee a one-time payment of the land’s current value, which is all they’re required to offer according to North Dakota’s Century Code.
Hoping to pass down his farm to his four sons, Ferebee expressed his frustration over having permanent transmission lines and structures on his property. He contacted landowners from around the Antelope Valley Station in Beulah and Charlie Creek by Grassy Butte, finding a group of 18 people willing to hire legal representation.
The group’s lawyer, however, said he would need more people to take legal action against such a large company, or most of the financial burden for representation and court costs would fall onto the shoulders of a few landowners.
In the end, Ferebee asked Basin Electric to either renegotiate the cost in 20 years, as each generation takes over, or provide an annual payment.
Basin Electric declined both options.
“I think (the public) understand(s) the need for the transmission line, but they have their concerns,” said Curt Pearson, Project Coordinations Representative for Basin Electric.
Daryl Hill, spokesperson for Basin Electric, said he doesn’t think Ferebee’s concerns represent that of the consensus.
“If they want to do that, that’s their choice,” Hill said.
Between five and seven structures will be placed per mile along the route and measure 115 feet in height. The structures are single pole constructions, with three protruding arms.
The construction process begins with surveying, used to determine where the structures will be located. When completed, foundation work will begin, then placing the structures, hanging the insulators, stringing the line, and tensioning the wire until all is tied in and energized.
Long-term economic benefits from the project, to businesses and surrounding communities, include increased electrical capacity and reliability, potential changes in property values, and property tax revenues of $58,000 annually to study area counties, according to the EIS.
Long and short-term environmental effects, as detailed in the EIS, include approximately 95 acres of woodland potentially being removed within right-of-way (ROW) – which is the area encompassed by the easement or the area needed to construct the line – depending on slope. An acre of vegetation also would permanently be removed within ROW at structure locations, with a potential introduction of noxious weeds within ROW to be avoided by weed mitigation measures, and the disturbance of vegetation within the ROW and along access roads during construction.
While the transmission line routes still are being finalized, construction has been proposed to begin this year or early 2015.
The existing high voltage system in the Williston/Tioga region consists of 230-kilovolt and 115-kilovolt systems that connect to Saskatchewan, eastern Montana and central and western North Dakota. Outage of any of these paths could cause low voltage criteria violations and overload adjacent transmission lines in the region and, therefore, be in violation of certain reliability standards.
“Because of the significant load growth … the existing transmission infrastructure that exists today doesn’t have the capacity to serve it all,” said John Skurupey, general manager for McKenzie Electric, an electric cooperative that serves the northern portion of Dunn County.
“What they need to do is construct this transmission line … so that they could bolster the load-serving capability of the region.”
McKenzie Electric’s primary service points – Killdeer and Watford City – would be load limited and forced to shed electrical load if any component fails on the existing transmission line.
“If there’s an outage on the system, almost anywhere, it won’t matter because the system will stay intact,” Skurupey said of the proposed new transmission line system.
Basin Electric’s August 2011 load forecast indicated an acceleration of growth in the northwestern North Dakota area primarily as a result of oil development. Much of the short-term load growth in the area is associated with provision of electrical service to support the rapid expansion of the number of facilities for oil and natural gas production, as well as the supporting infrastructure and services.
A total of 38 comment sheets and letters were received during the scoping comment period beginning on Nov. 2, 2011 and ending on Dec. 2, 2011. The key issues identified during the comment process primarily were related to the visual impacts and general disturbance to the natural areas along the alternative corridor that followed U.S. Highway 85 between the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The approximately 190-mile line would serve increasing demand for electricity in the region and would be located in portions of Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer, Mountrail and Williams counties.
“Transmission studies show that the current system is reaching its limit and additional lines are needed,” Pearson said. “This new 345-kilovolt line will also improve the reliability of the existing system, making a stronger infrastructure throughout the region.”