How We Serve: Dakota Gasification Company

Dale Johnson, Basin Electric senior vice president and plant manager at Dakota Gas.

Employees at Basin Electric understand their roles as stewards of service to the members of the cooperative. The “How We Serve” series highlights an employee and their work group and explains how they serve our members every day.

Dale Johnson has been the plant manager at Dakota Gas since 2013 and was promoted to senior vice president in 2023. Throughout his career at the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, he has worked as a process engineer, process engineering supervisor, and operations manager, as well as the health, safety, and environmental manager. He recently celebrated 38 years with Dakota Gas.

Johnson shares more about his role and the relationships he has with his team, and how together their purpose has strengthened Basin Electric’s dedication to serving its member-owners.

Dakota Gas owns and operates the Great Plains Synfuels Plant, which is the only commercial-scale coal gasification plant in the United States that manufactures natural gas. The plant also produces fertilizers, chemicals, and fuels that are shipped across the nation to be used in agriculture, construction, and power generation. “The technology at the Synfuels Plant is amazing,” Johnson says. “I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate in its growth from fruition with three products to the current slate of 13 products. In that growth, we’ve experienced learning curves with many technologies that were the first of their kind.”

Johnson spends part of each day meeting with Dakota Gas’ Operations, Maintenance, Safety, Environmental, and Compliance teams, along with Basin Electric support groups, to review the operation of the plant and to develop business strategies for the coming days or weeks. “It is important for all of the groups to discuss issues that may impact our customers or plant employees,” Johnson says. “We make a special effort to provide minutes of these meetings to plant employees and other stakeholders to keep everyone informed.”

One of the major projects underway at the Synfuels Plant is the construction of a new carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration system, which is on track to put in service early next year. “This project will leverage our 20+ years of experience with CO2 compression and transportation and utilize the 45Q tax credits to generate a revenue stream for Dakota Gas and the membership,” Johnson says. “This revenue stream will make a significant improvement to Dakota Gas’ bottom line and ultimately support Basin Electric’s economics.”

Dakota Gas is also preparing for a “brown plant” turnaround in September. “This is a major undertaking where the majority of the plant will be out of service and around 4,000 maintenance tasks are scheduled to be completed,” Johnson says.

One of the largest projects is the replacement of the flue gas ductwork between the boilers and the flue gas desulfurization system. Several Dakota Gas employees have experienced turnarounds of this magnitude, so they are providing great advice for the team. “This turnaround will be a lot of work for our team, but it will also be a great learning experience for all of us. Ultimately, the projects that will be completed during the turnaround will improve the reliability and operability of the plant.”

The team at Dakota Gas has consistently adapted to customer needs, regulatory requirements, commodity pricing, and many other changes over the years. “The employees have done a great job of working through challenges and keeping the plant operating for the benefit of the membership. I am very lucky to be a part of this team,” Johnson says. “The Synfuels Plant is very complex, and the conditions are ever evolving, so it seems like no two days are the same. It’s these challenges, along with our great employees, that make my job fun and rewarding.”

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