November 9, 2011

More power coming on line

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Providing reliable electric power to their customers has always been Job No. 1 for McKenzie Electric Cooperative.
But with hundreds of new oil wells being drilled throughout McKenzie County, as well as new oilfield businesses, man camps and residential subdivisions springing up across the county, not only has providing reliable power become a challenge for the Watford City-based cooperative, but so has the ability to provide enough power to meet a growing demand.
“Since 2006, we have seen our load demand double,” states John Skurupey, McKenzie Electric CEO. “We’ve gone from selling 40 megawatts of electricity in 2006 to 80 megawatts today. And the demand for more power is increasing.”
To meet the huge increase in power demand, as well as to provide more reliable power, the cooperative built substations near Watford City and Keene this summer and is working on  new substations south of Watford City, south of Arnegard and north of Watford City near the Banks Church. In addition, the coop is building a new switchyard southeast of Alexander and upgrading its capacity at the Alexander and Indian Hills substations.
“We are investing approximately $30 million in new substations and upgrades,” states Skurupey. “We’re replacing 1970s equipment and lines with more modern construction, and as a result we’re going to have a much more reliable power supply.”
With the oil and gas companies willing to pay a significant portion of the costs of these new facilities and lines, according to Skurupey, cooperative members are going to see the benefits without having to incur the costs.
“With the Garden Creek Substation, which primarily serves the ONEOK gas plant north of Watford City, and the new Cherry Creek Substation south of Watford City, we are going to be able to stabilize our power,” states Skurupey. “By having two substations which are served by two separate transmission lines, we will have fewer power outages.”
And with the approach of winter, McKenzie Electric is rushing to bring the new substations on line.
“We hope to have the Cherry Creek Substation on line by the end of November,” states Skurupey. “And the upgrades to the substations at Alexander and Indian Hills, as well as the new Alexander switchyard and the Banks substation done by February.”
With these major system upgrades, Skurupey is confidently optimistic that the cooperative is seeing its major transmission projects nearing an end, but as demand continues, he knows that there is still going to be considerable work ahead.
“I would like to think that we’re done with the major transmission projects on the eastern side of our service area,” states Skurupey. “But as the oil development continues to grow west of Watford City, we may need to do even more major infrastructure projects in that part of the county.”
While Skurupey acknowledges that meeting the new growth demand has been a challenge for the cooperative, he is quick to point out that the benefits far outweigh the extra work.
“We’re replacing 1940s distribution lines with all new lines and we’re increasing our system’s voltage from 69-kV to 115-kV,” states Skurupey. “As a result, we have the most modern electrical system in the state and our members pay the lowest electrical rates in the state.”