Bismarck, N.D. – Basin Electric’s 2020 Annual Meeting of the Membership was held virtually for the first time for its member cooperative directors, employees, public officials, and utility representatives. Hundreds of viewers tuned in representing the industry and cooperatives from across the country.
This year’s theme, Listen & Lead, was chosen to represent the cooperative’s focus on listening to member concerns as Basin Electric leads the cooperative into the future. Basin Electric’s goal is providing low cost energy for its member-owners. The presentations shared how Basin Electric is evolving to meet members’ energy needs reliably while maintaining affordable rates in the ever changing energy industry as load growth continues.
Basin Electric President Wayne Peltier, representing District 9 and Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light and Power, Montevideo, Minn., talked about an effort to better understand alignment on key topics facing the Basin Electric family, called the Cooperative Awareness Campaign. An external consultant has been conducting interviews and focus groups with Basin Electric directors, senior staff, Class A managers and their Management Advisory Committees. “Many of you have been interviewed as part of our Cooperative Awareness Campaign. Thank you for taking the time to provide the input we need. We learned, resoundingly, that reliability and rates are the two most pressing issues you consider when you think about Basin Electric,” Peltier said. “Every decision we make as a board at Basin, we are thinking about our members and what matters most.”
Basin Electric General Manager and CEO Paul Sukut spoke about growth within the membership. “We are an all-of-the-above utility, which includes coal, natural gas, wind, and now also solar. … Because we’re a growing cooperative, we continue the search for additional resources. We are particularly looking at resources that are low carbon or no carbon,” Sukut said. “We have been working with Bakken Midstream, for example, to see if there is a way for us to take some of the natural gas that is being flared from wells and turn that into power for our growing membership load. We are trying to do these things in the most efficient and effective manner to keep your rates as low as possible.”
Sukut also said the cooperative expects to continue to operate its coal-based power plants for years to come. “One of the projects I am most excited about is the Integrated Test Center in Wyoming at our Dry Fork Station. Via that project, we are demonstrating projects that would extract carbon from the flue gas,” he said. “At the same time, the CarbonSAFE project in Wyoming is drilling potential wells for the storage of carbon dioxide. If this can be done, Dry Fork Station will be one of the, if not the, cleanest coal plants in America.”
Basin Electric Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Steve Johnson provided the financial report during the meeting. “Through our democratic cooperative business model, I think we listen extremely well. That is part of what has led Basin Electric to become and remain the financially strong entity that it is today,” Johnson said.
This financial strength allowed Basin Electric to assist its members during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Knowing how significantly some of our members were being impacted by the pandemic, the board of directors authorized the retirement of nearly $18.6 million of patronage capital credits in April to help mitigate the financial effects members were facing,” Johnson said. “Then this week directors approved the retirement of an additional $14 million of patronage, bringing our total retirement for the year to $32.6 million.”
The meeting’s key note speaker was Dr. Scott Tinker. Dr. Tinker works to bring industry, government, academia, and nongovernmental organizations together to address major societal challenges in energy, the environment, and the economy. He is the director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, the state geologist of Texas, a professor holding the Allday Endowed Chair in the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, and co-producer of the award-winning energy documentary films Switch and Switch On.
“The reality is most people don’t know how electricity is made. They think renewables are ‘good’ and ‘clean’ and fossil fuels are ‘bad’ and ‘dirty.’ That’s just not critical thinking. All forms of energy have environmental impacts, they’re just different. You have to mine the materials and manufacture turbines, panels, and batteries, and then they end up in a landfills,” Tinker said.
He went on to talk about global production and consumption. “The U.S. consumes more than we produce, while China and SE Asia produce more than they consume. Southeast Asia gets half of its energy from coal. Is that clean? China is still building coal power plants. They have 120 GW of coal under construction today. So what’s the strategy with zero emissions for governments, companies and states? Buying credits so you can continue to emit? There’s only so many credits to go around, and more importantly there is only one atmosphere. Buying credits moves emissions, it doesn’t really reduce them much,” Tinker said.
Dr. Tinker sees the overlap between energy, the economy, and the environment as critically important, and calls it the radical middle. “Different groups must work hard together to address and solve major issues in the radical middle, such as energy poverty and climate change. No solution is perfect, and compromise is required.”
Tinker also said Basin Electric is wise to diversify its resource portfolio, including a variety of fuel streams that provide optionality, while continuing to keep coal in the mix.
More information, including reports, video, and social media feeds can be found at basinelectric.com or through #Basin2020.
About Basin Electric Power Cooperative Basin Electric is a consumer-owned, regional cooperative headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota. It generates and transmits electricity to 141 member rural electric systems in nine states: Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. These member systems distribute electricity to about 3 million consumers. Learn more at www.basinelectric.com.