Delayed plant outages at Basin Electric ensure safety, save money

As the spring power plant outages drew near, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in full force across Basin Electric’s service area. With the safety of the co-op’s employees and the communities where they live and work of utmost importance, Basin Electric’s management enacted work-related travel bans, and the number of contractors allowed at its generation facilities was significantly limited to curb the spread of the virus and keep the cooperative’s essential workers healthy. 

With these restrictions in place, management struggled with the question of how the three major outages at Antelope Valley Station, Leland Olds Station, and Laramie River Station would move forward. 

“We initially postposed a few of them to the fall of 2020, but when other utilities across the country started postponing their outages as well, NERC (the North American Electric Reliability Corporation) stepped in because multiple utilities conducting their outages at the same time could affect grid reliability,” says Troy Tweeten, Basin Electric senior vice president of Operations. “We did some research and found it was safe to delay many of the projects that were scheduled during the outages, so we decided to postpone them to the spring and fall of 2021.”

Darla Jensen, Basin Electric manager of financial planning and forecasting, says that by delaying the outages, it is estimated that Basin Electric will reduce spending by approximately $36.7 million in 2020. “These delayed expenses help alleviate the unfavorable revenue impact of reduced member loads Basin Electric is experiencing,” Jensen says. “Also, the delay gives us an opportunity to reexamine the anticipated costs and work to reduce those costs.”  

After the decision was made to postpone the outages, the Process Assessment Team (a group of cross-functional employees tasked to perform a detailed review of the cooperative and its subsidiaries’ operations and processes) created a subteam to review the work plan for the upcoming outages and tailor the task list to more accurately couple with the plants’ reliability expectations and ability to compete in the market. 

In addition to the cost savings, delaying the outages will allow Basin Electric the foresight to see if a four-year outage schedule would be feasible and cost efficient. If it is, it could mean significant savings in the long run.

Along with the benefits of delaying the outages, there are a few drawbacks as well. Regulations in North Dakota require boiler maintenance every three years, so Basin Electric had to ask the state for an extension to do that work. “Not doing that maintenance when it’s required has the potential to affect reliability, so we took precautionary measures to prevent that from happening,” Tweeten says. “We also took short outages at each of the three plants using only our own employees to complete tasks that were necessary to keep the plants running and provide the power our members need.” At the end of May, the plants began allowing a small number of contractors on site to complete the work that is necessary to keep the plants running. 

“I am really proud of the plant staff and the work they’ve done throughout this uncertain time,” Tweeten says. “They have really stepped up and done their part to help in any way necessary. They’ve pulled together to get the job done and through it all, keep looking for better ways to do things and cut costs to make the plants more marketable. They have gone above and beyond to maintain reliability, save money for our members, and ensure they have the electricity they need to keep their homes, businesses, and essential facilities up and running.”