Power-hungry Oil Patch creates need for controversial power line

WILLISTON, N.D. – The need for power in oil-producing counties is projected to grow more than 1,000 megawatts by 2025, but a proposed transmission line to deliver that electricity is drawing environmental and cultural concerns.

The Public Service Commission held a third and final hearing Thursday in Williston on Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s proposed 197-mile transmission line to meet the power demands in the Oil Patch.

The 345-kilovolt transmission line starts at the Antelope Valley Station near Beulah, heads west through Killdeer, north through Williston and ends at a substation near Tioga.

Connie Triplett, a state senator from Grand Forks who also serves with the grassroots group the Badlands Conservation Alliance, asked commissioners to send Basin Electric back to the drawing board.

Triplett said the company should find an alternative that avoids sensitive areas such as the Badlands, the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield area and the area outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Triplett said the peace and solitude of the national park is already being disturbed by construction, oil wells and natural gas flaring outside the park boundaries.

“A gigantic power line is just another thing in a long line,” Triplett said. “At some point, the cumulative effect adds up to a greatly diminished experience.”

Anne Marguerite Coyle, biology professor for Jamestown College who has researched golden eagles in the Killdeer area, testified that the transmission line would have a high impact on wildlife in the area. In particular, the route is a dense nesting area for golden eagles, Coyle said.

Cris Miller, environmental administrator for Basin Electric, said the company is working to minimize the environmental and cultural impact of the project. The amount of land that will be permanently lost after the project is complete is 1 acre, Miller said.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak pointed out that the word “loss” is subjective and others may view it differently than Miller.

Basin Electric has committed to relocate a proposed substation that would have been in the study area to determine the boundaries of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield.

“It was the responsible thing to do,” said Curt Pearson, a company spokesman.

Triplett urged commissioners to avoid putting transmission lines through the battlefield area because it contains known Native American burial grounds. The state’s Native American tribes have also issued a resolution opposing further development in the area.

Private landowners in the battlefield area, however, testified in support of the project, said Commissioner Randy Christmann.

Basin Electric had internal discussions about alternate routes, but the one selected was the best for providing reliable service while minimizing the impacts, Pearson said.

Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, one of the rural cooperatives served by Basin Electric, projects to see a 40 percent increase in load growth this year to provide power to the oil and gas industry and the growing communities, said Chris Brostuen, assistant general manager.

Cheryl Hartsoch of Ray, who serves on the cooperative’s board of directors, said they need reliable transmission service to keep up with the rapid pace of development.

“We live in a very active, aggressively busy North Dakota area,” Hartsoch said.

Fedorchak said she’s concerned about the environmentally and culturally sensitive areas, but the commission needs to balance that with the need for electricity.

“Clearly it’s a need and it’s balancing all of the interests of the landowners, the environment, the cultural heritage and trying to find the best route,” Fedorchak said.

Commission Chairman Brian Kalk said deciding on power lines is challenging because there’s no answer that makes everyone happy.

“The siting of power lines is by far the most difficult, the most complex, the most landowner intensive,” Kalk said.

This transmission line affects 311 landowners and Basin Electric has obtained right-of-ways from 78 percent of landowners, according to the company’s testimony.

Christmann said he wishes the company had a higher rate of landowner buy-in.

Kalk said he expects the commission will make a decision by the end of the year, but it would be contingent on approval from federal agencies through the National Environment Policy Act.

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