Basin Electric breaks ground on generation facility to power a growing membership

groundbreaking at construction site
A groundbreaking ceremony for Pioneer Generation Station Phase IV was held on Sept. 11. Pictured at the ceremony are, from left, Travis Fucich, Burns & McDonnell project executive and engineering director; Jeremy Mahowald, Upper Missouri Power Cooperative general manager; Todd Brickhouse, Basin Electric interim chief executive officer and general manager; North Dakota Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller; Gavin McCollam, Basin Electric senior vice president and chief operating officer; and Chris Baumgartner, Basin Electric senior vice president of Member and External Relations.

As a commitment to the delivery of reliable and affordable electricity, Basin Electric is building about 580 megawatts (MW) of natural gas generation near the existing Pioneer Generation Station northwest of Williston, North Dakota. The project is referred to as Pioneer Generation Station Phase IV (PGSIV), and it’s Basin Electric’s largest single-site electric generation project to be built in North Dakota in 40 years.

The natural gas-fueled, dispatchable generation facility is an important component to Basin Electric’s all-of-the-above energy portfolio, which uses natural gas, coal, wind, recovered energy, fuel oil, market purchases, and soon solar, to serve its growing membership.

The project represents an investment of about $800 million.

Todd Brickhouse, Basin Electric interim chief executive officer and general manager, says the five cooperatives who serve the Bakken region have invested more than $1.1 billion over the past decade to ensure reliable, affordable power in this region. “Similarly, Basin Electric has invested just over $1.1 billion in the region over the last 15 years. If you look at what is being built at Pioneer Generation Station and include the major transmission infrastructure we are currently planning to build, Basin Electric will invest another $1.3 billion in the Bakken region in the next few years,” Brickhouse says. “Projects of this scale couldn’t be accomplished without the cooperation of citizens who surround these localities. We thank the landowners who endure construction in this region every day as we complete these vitally important projects.”

Investment in Reliability

Construction began on the facility addition in March. Burns & McDonnell is the engineering, procurement, and construction lead on the project. More than 150 contract workers are on site, and there will be 250 workers on site during the peak of construction.

The reciprocating engines and one combustion turbine will be operational earlier in 2025, followed by the second combustion turbine. When operational, the facility will have employees on site 24 hours a day.

Gavin McCollam, Basin Electric senior vice president and chief operating officer, says Basin Electric intends to keep its promise of being a good neighbor as this generation facility grows. “The people who live and work in this area are our members, and it’s our obligation to be good neighbors,” McCollam says. “When this project is complete, the entire Pioneer Generation Station site, with more than 800 MW of dispatchable generation, will be the largest natural gas-based plant in a radius that is bounded by Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the east; Denver, Colorado to the south; Salt Lake City, Utah to the southwest; and the Pacific Ocean to the west; a proud addition to the Basin Electric fleet, and a crown jewel of natural gas-based generation.”

structural steel on a construction site
This structure is the engine hall, which will house the reciprocating engines; the concrete piers in the foreground will support the exhaust system for the reciprocating engines.

Load forecasts show member cooperatives in the Bakken region will require more electricity by 2025. According to the 2023 Basin Electric Member Load Forecast, 92% of Basin Electric’s distribution cooperative members are growing. In western North Dakota and eastern Montana, that growth is due to economic development related to oil and gas, and the ancillary services that go along with this progress.

Jeremy Mahowald, Upper Missouri Power Cooperative general manager, says Upper Missouri Power, a Basin Electric Class A member, receives 97% of its power from Basin Electric. “Within our footprint is mostly agriculture, but we also serve the Bakken which is very energy-intensive. Our electricity needs are day and night, every day of the year, and our power needs continue to grow,” Mahowald says. “It’s critical that we have facilities like Pioneer Generation Station Phase IV to support our region. ... The grid stability we get with a facility like Pioneer really can’t be beat.”

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Building a stable foundation

Though the official ceremony for groundbreaking was in September, ground was truly broken at PGSIV in March.

“We dug down about six feet to the floor of what we call the ‘bathtub,’ which is basically bottom of foundation, bottom of pipe, and then built up from there,” says Darrell Slavick, Basin Electric construction coordinator on the project.

Auger cast piles were installed to a depth of 45 to 65 feet, which will support the weight of turbines that weigh several hundred thousand pounds. After underground work include piping, duct banks, and conduit is installed, trenches are filled in. “Finishing that work adds a level of safety because until that work is complete, you have those hazards, and work around the safety fencing and maintaining that fencing in the wind and rain,” Slavick says. “It’s good to get the trenches filled and everyone working on good, stable ground.”

Work in the late summer and fall has been focused on the steel structure and getting it enclosed with sheeting. “That gives crews a place to work in the winter when the cold and wind come around, so we have a good, sustainable place to keep working,” he says.

The Wartsila reciprocating engines will arrive onsite in late 2023 after taking a trip from Finland, coming through the Duluth, Minnesota, port and then traveling by rail to Williston. The engines will be re-assembled on site throughout the winter.

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