Fuel Prices Could Affect Load Control

Slightly higher wholesale market prices, in particular propane, entering the heating season could impact the number of load control hours for Nodak Electric Cooperative off-peak members in winter 2018-19. Minnkota is Nodak Electric’s wholesale power supplier.

“As those prices go up, the market follows those trends, and you see more control,” said Todd Sailer, Minnkota Power Cooperative senior manager of power supply and resource planning.

Sailer said Minnkota, your cooperative’s wholesale energy supplier, estimates 200 to 250 hours of dual-heat load control this winter. This compares to the 10-year average of 170 hours.

Last year’s total of 60 control hours shows that moderate temperatures and low market conditions can combine to result in a small amount of control hours.

Other than the natural gas and propane prices inching up, Minnkota’s demand response outlook is similar to the 2017-18 forecast. The unknown is possible forced outages at Minnkota and elsewhere in the wholesale energy market.

“Market price volatility is driven by fuel prices, weather and generator outages. These events drive the majority of the control hours,” Sailer said.

Minnkota has the ability to control up to 350 megawatts through its demand response system. This includes dual-fuel systems, temporarily controlling storage heating systems, large-capacity water heaters, home vehicle chargers and large industrial consumers with backup generators. Millions of dollars have been saved due to the successful operation of Minnkota’s load management system for about 40 years.

Two outages could have an impact on the number of load control hours. Unit 1 of the Milton R. Young Station is offline until early November after a major outage was extended for damage discovered during the outage. Also, Coyote Station has an outage scheduled to begin March 29 and last into May.

“Any time you have a generator out, you’re exposed more to the market,” Sailer said. “Right now we have some scheduled outages for the first part of November and then again in the spring. We typically do not schedule maintenance in the January and February time frame when we’re at peak conditions. That’s where the unplanned or forced outages come into play.”

During outages and periods of peak electric demand, Minnkota’s first option is to purchase energy from the power market. If the timing is not right and affordable power is not available, off-peak loads are temporarily controlled. The savings are passed on to retail consumers through the lower off-peak heating rate.

“Controlling load during these periods protects consumers from the volatility of the market and prevents the need to build new power plants just to serve peak loads,” Sailer said.

An off-peak system consists of an electric heating source as its primary component. A supplemental heating source must operate several hundred hours or more during the winter season. Sailer said members with a well-maintained backup heating system should not notice a difference in comfort level when their off-peak heating system is controlled.

Incentives for heating, charging equipment

As part of its Value of Electricity campaign, Minnkota works with its member cooperatives and participating municipals to offer incentives for the installation of electric heating, water heating and charging equipment.

A recent addition is incentives for the installation of electric vehicle charging equipment on the off-peak program. It calls for a $50 per kilowatt rebate for Level 2 chargers that are 240 volts. The maximum rebate is $500.

“One of the things that is new to our program that we’re really promoting is the electrical vehicles,” Sailer said. “We see it as a benefit for the consumer and the co-ops. It’s just another good load in our demand response program.”

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Honoring Our Veterans

As I write this article, Veterans Day is just around the corner; however, by the time you receive it the holiday season will be in full swing. Still, I want to pause and express my gratitude by saying thank you to all our current and former service men and women. Your sacrifice and commitment to making the world a better place has not gone unnoticed and as such, we honor our fallen veterans and say thank you to the brave men and women who have served. On this 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, it is especially important that we express our thanks to those who sacrificed so much to ensure freedom for us and our allies.

As an electric cooperative, we hold our veterans in high esteem and aim to do our part to not only honor them but help support them. One way we would like to do this is through the “No Barriers Program.” One of our financial services partners, CoBank, has teamed up with No Barriers USA to allow electric cooperatives to nominate veterans with disabilities to participate in a five-day expedition at no cost. The program provides an opportunity for rural veterans to challenge their own limitations, both real and perceived, physical and mental. Through successful completion of demanding activities like rafting, rock climbing and hiking, they become better equipped to overcome obstacles they face in their daily lives. By sharing experiences with other veterans with disabilities, they also build a network of support that can last a lifetime. If you or someone you know could benefit from this program, go to http://www.cobank.com/citizenship/no-barriers for more information.

The holiday season can be a magical time for many of us. Festive gatherings with family and friends, time away from school, ringing in the new year and celebrating the promise of new opportunities can be especially exciting. However, the holiday season can also be an extremely difficult time. The added financial pressures that come from this time of year can be especially difficult for those who have those day-to-day struggles. For those without family or friends to share the holidays with, it can also be a very difficult and lonely time.

As we move through the holiday season we hold those having struggles close in our thoughts and encourage everyone to extend a helping hand whenever possible. To all our members and neighbors, we at Nodak Electric Cooperative want to wish you the happiest of happy holidays.

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Electrical Equipment Is Never In Season

As various North Dakota hunting seasons approach, please remember that electrical insulators, conductors and electrical equipment are NOT on the hunting season list. Nodak Electric Cooperative encourages hunters to be aware of electrical equipment while enjoying the great outdoors this season.

Hunters and other gun owners should not shoot near or toward power lines, power poles and substations. A stray bullet can cause damage to equipment, could be deadly to the shooter, and potentially interrupt electric service to large areas.

Be aware of what’s behind that big buck or it might cost big bucks. Repairs can be costly and damages cause outages to our members. As a nonprofit cooperative, owned by the members, we all share in this expense.

We recognize the majority of hunters practice safe hunting and understand the potential risks when discharging a firearm. We encourage experienced hunters who are familiar with the area to identify the locations of utility properties and equipment to young or new hunters in their group and remind them to avoid shooting toward these facilities. Enjoy the great outdoors safely.

Hunting Safety Tips

  • Do not shoot at or near power lines or insulators.
  • Familiarize yourself with the location of power lines and equipment on land where you shoot.
  • Damage to the conductor can happen, possibly dropping a phase on the ground. If it’s dry and the electricity goes to ground, there is the possibility of electrocution and fire.
  • Be especially careful in wooded areas where power lines may not be as visible.
  • Do not use power line wood poles or towers to support equipment used in your shooting activity.
  • Take notice of warning signs and keep clear of electrical equipment.
  • Do not place deer stands on utility poles or climb poles. Energized lines and equipment on the poles can conduct electricity to anyone who comes in contact with them, causing shock or electrocution.
  • Do not shoot at or near birds perching on utility lines. That goes for any type of firearm, including pistols, rifles or shotguns.
  • Do not place decoys on power lines or other utility equipment. Anything attached to a pole besides utility equipment can pose an obstruction – and a serious hazard – to electric cooperative employees as they perform utility operations.
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Brownouts vs. Blinking Lights

You’re at home and suddenly the lights get really bright in part of the house while dimming in another. Or your lights and appliances work in one part of your home but not in other areas. What’s going on? Those could be symptoms of “brownouts,” also called partial power or low voltage. But don’t confuse partial power with blinking lights.

Brownouts or partial power

Partial power at a home is usually caused by a problem with neutral or ground connections. This could be a bad connection at the transformer, a bad connection to the pole ground, a bad connection to the primary neutral conductor, a bad connection in the meter base, a secondary conductor that is failing, or problems within the home at the breaker panel or individual circuits.

Signs of partial power include dim lights or appliances that work in some parts of the home but not in others, and some lights getting really bright while others dim.

For a large number of members, partial power could be caused by a transmission problem or a voltage regulator not working properly. It also occurs when one phase of the transmission three-phase is not energizing a substation transformer. If that happens, two of our distribution phases will have low voltage and therefore cause low voltage within the home.

What should you do?

If you experience partial power, you should turn off your main breaker and call Nodak or an electrician. If the partial power is affecting everything in your home, call Nodak Electric so we can advise you on whether the source of the problem is ours or if it’s on your side of the meter.

Blinking lights

Blinking lights is a complete, momentary power outage – perhaps just for a few seconds. Sometimes, the lights may completely blink off just once, and then everything is fine again. Or the lights may blink on and off a few times followed by a complete power outage. Blinking lights occurs when there is a fault on our electric system, such as a tree or branch in contact with a power line. If this happens, it’s a sign that our electric system is working as designed. If you have questions regarding partial power or blinking lights, please contact Nodak Electric at 1-800-732-4373.

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Smart Grid Technology To Improve Reliability, Benefit Nodak Members

In its nearly 70 years of operation, the Cooperstown substation has powered it all.

The facility helped bring electricity out to farms and ranches in the early 1950s. It energized the development of Minuteman Missile sites during the Cold War. And it stayed stride for stride with our demand for energy in a digital world.

This fall, the substation is set for a well-earned retirement. The aging equipment will be replaced with a new, modern substation to meet the area’s long-term energy needs.

Substations, those collections of wires and transformers you see behind chain-link fences, raise the voltage of electricity at a power generation facility for efficient transmission over long distances, then lower it so it can be safely used in homes and businesses. Nodak receives power at the substation from Minnkota Power Cooperative, its wholesale power provider, and then brings it out to its member-consumers.

“The existing Cooperstown substation was basically at its maximum capacity,” said Jay Bushy, Minnkota’s lead engineer on the project. “If Nodak would have had additional load out there, we wouldn’t have been able to provide for it without expanding the substation.”

Once the new substation is energized later this year, the existing substation will be decommissioned, the equipment will be removed and the site restored to its original condition with grass planted. The entire project is estimated to cost $900,000.

Minnkota operates and maintains more than 250 substations on behalf of Nodak and 10 other electric cooperatives in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. Initiating the rebuild of an existing substation or replacing equipment goes through a meticulous review process where age, location, system demand and many other factors are considered. A construction work plan is developed on an annual basis and approved by a board consisting of representatives from the 11 Minnkota member cooperatives.

Real-time data

The new Cooperstown substation provides significant benefits in terms of communication and reliability, Bushy said. An upgraded computer system, known in the industry as SCADA, will help gather and analyze data, while also monitoring and controlling equipment processes remotely. It is part of a long-term upgrade project to add smart grid technology at the older substation sites. All new substations have the technology in place.

“We’ll be better able to isolate outages and switch lines on and off,” Bushy said. “That’s a benefit to Nodak and its members.”

Smart grid technology has been added this summer at the Robbin substation (near Drayton), Depuy substation (near Grafton) and Adams substation (west of Park River) in Nodak’s service area. The goal of these projects is to replace the meters and regulator panels with state-of-the-art technology that will provide real-time communication back to Minnkota’s Energy Control Center.

By receiving real-time data from the substations, personnel can more quickly respond to outages and other power quality issues.

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Maintaining Geographic Diversity

I’m sure you are aware that Nodak’s service territory is divided into three separate districts, with three of our nine board members residing in each district. This is done for several reasons, but most importantly it ensures a certain degree of geographic diversity among our board members.

This geographic diversity spreads our board members throughout our service area. That increases the chance there will be a board member you know, live near, or interact with occasionally. It also increases the likelihood that the board will more closely match the diversity of our membership. The life experiences and perspectives that come from raising livestock in the western part of our service area may be somewhat different from that gained by raising sugar beets in the northern Red River Valley, dealing with the rising water near Devils Lake, or the congestion of a larger city in the east. Member districts guard against one area dominating the board and falling to special interests or just losing touch with our membership.

With the goal of maintaining that geographical diversity, from time to time our board reviews the makeup of the three districts and makes adjustments to their boundaries. Our bylaws require that “the cooperative service territory shall be divided into three substantially similar districts based on member population.” While we do experience growth throughout our service area, the growth around the population centers has a tendency to skew the numbers toward the more populated areas. In an effort to reestablish parity between the districts, your board has adjusted the district boundaries ahead of our next board election.

To accomplish this, each of the three districts were modified slightly to bring the member population substantially equal again. The map on this page shows the new districts that will be used for our next board of director election in April. If you live close to the new district boundaries and are unsure which district you live in, feel free to call the cooperative headquarters and we will be happy to assist you in determining which district you are part of.

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Celebrate Co-op Month!

By providing the electricity that powers your home, farm or business, cooperatives play a role in your daily life. As we observe Co-op Month in October, electric cooperative members should be proud of the success of the cooperative business model and the spirit of cooperation these organizations promote. Cooperatives are a true example of grassroots involvement because cooperatives are owned and controlled by those they serve.

Look across North Dakota’s landscape and you’ll notice cooperatives improve our quality of life everywhere. Electric cooperatives bring light to our lives, cool our food and heat our homes.

So, when you turn on a light, or power up your computer, remember your electric cooperative is standing behind you each and every day.

Co-ops are community-led

October is National Co-op Month, which is the perfect time to highlight the many ways electric cooperatives are unique.

Cooperatives are locally governed, looking out for the long-term needs of their consumer-members.

Co-ops are a catalyst for good

Electric co-ops are a catalyst for good in their communities. Co-ops engage their consumer-members to do things that might otherwise be impossible or difficult, like more than 75 years ago when electric co-ops brought power to areas where other utilities did not find it economically feasible.

Cooperatives exist to meet a need that was previously unmet in the community, and they are ever striving to anticipate and plan for the future needs of their consumer-members.

Electric cooperatives often partner with local groups to bring economic opportunity to their local community. It is this facilitation role that is often the most valuable strength of the co-op.

The co-op business model is unique. It is pragmatic, mission-oriented and puts people first. Co-ops strive to be a trusted voice in their communities. Co-ops have earned that trust because, while not perfect, they always have their members’ best interest at heart and are determined to enrich the lives of those living and working in the communities they serve – now and in the future.

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New Hire

Jeff Bolstad, a Valley City native and a graduate of Valley City State University with a bachelor of science degree in computer information systems, joined the Nodak team as an information technologist in July.

Prior to Nodak, Jeff worked for Eide Bailly Technology Consulting and Network Center, Inc., in Fargo and Grand Forks, as a help desk technician/team lead.

At Nodak, Jeff will provide onsite and remote software support as well as multiple server hardware and operating software support. He will also ensure stable operation of the cooperative LAN, WAN and PC workstations, and use risk management to identify vulnerabilities and threats to information.

In his spare time, Jeff enjoys brewing beer, gardening and is a fan of both the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Vikings.

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Nowacki Retires

Nodak would like to wish Loren Nowacki a wonderful retirement.

Loren started at Nodak in November 1998 as an information technologist, a position he held until retirement. He was excellent at servicing and maintaining computers. He was always patient while educating employees with new programs and the continually changing technology world.

Blaine Rekken, manager of member/energy services, said, “Loren has been a great asset and faithful employee of Nodak during his 19-plus years serving as information technologist for the cooperative, and we wish him many years of health and happiness in his retirement! I will miss Loren’s cooperative spirit, dependability, attention to detail and quick wit. Congratulations, Loren, for achieving this milestone in your life!”

Loren’s retirement plans include work on home projects, travel, spend time with family and grandchildren, and do volunteer work.

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Your Co-Op, Your Piece Of The Pie

Capital credit power bill credits and checks totaling $1.3 million were recently issued to our current and former members’ purchasing power from Nodak Electric Cooperative in the year 2000.

The capital credit check or power bill credit that is delivered to you has a long history behind it. It is easier to understand the entire concept of capital credits if you look at the early beginnings of the electric distribution industry in our state. Back in the 1930s and 40s, the Rural Electrification Administration provided the funding necessary to build the power lines into the sparsely populated regions of this country. The challenge was, after the lines were built and electricity was flowing, how do we keep this fledgling electric company afloat and the lights kept on? The concept of capital credits provided that much-needed funding mechanism to keep the cooperative growing.

The early members contributed “capital” to the cooperative by purchasing electricity at a rate that was slightly above the cost to deliver energy to them. That small amount of profit or margin was then retained by the cooperative to help finance the operations for the following year. In a sense, the original members of the cooperative were looking out for the needs of future members by allowing the co-op to retain those margins to build new lines in the years that followed. In return for the usage of those member funds, the cooperative set up a separate account to keep track of how much each member proportionately contributed to the entire margin picture with the intent of someday reimbursing that member, thus the term “credit” was joined with capital.

Time passes by quickly and here we are nearly 80 years after the first power lines were strung. Everything around us has changed, but some things remain consistent. We are still delivering energy to our members at a rate that is just above the cost to deliver it. We still live in a part of the country that is sparsely populated. With continually increasing costs associated with running an electric distribution system, it becomes more of a challenge to pass those costs along to a relatively small membership and still carve out a slight margin.

Still, another unchanged fact is the concept of paying back past members for usage of their working capital, or “capital credits,” in a timely manner. Our Board of Directors has consistently followed the principles of retiring capital credits that were founded back in the 1930s. Due to those spiraling costs and a small growth of new customers, the amount of time from when the capital is contributed by the member to the time he/she is repaid has stretched out to 17 years. In comparison, there are many cooperatives in the United States that are on a 20-25 year cycle and still others that have never retired capital credits.

So, as you can see, the capital credit retirement from Nodak Electric Cooperative that you recently received has historical roots that run deep. It’s just one of the many benefits of doing business with us, and we hope to keep those types of things unchanged.

Tom Edwards, Accounting & Finance Manager

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Lightning Safety

People generally think of lightning damage as what happens at the point where a cloud-to-ground strike hits a tree, structure or elevated wiring. Unless the struck items are protected from lightning, the results of the strike are often visible and lasting. However, the lightning current pulse continues into conductive parts of the structure, cables, and even underground wiring and pipes. Because the initial lightning impulse is so strong, equipment connected to cables a mile or more from the site of the strike can be damaged.

The most common damage arises from a lightning strike to the network of power, phone and cable television wiring. This network, especially if it is elevated, is an effective collector of the lightning surges. The wiring then conducts the surges directly into the residence and to the connected equipment. Lightning can also travel through the ground (soil), reaching underground cables or pipes. This is another route for lightning to come into a building and can also damage the cables.

The second-most common mode results from strikes to or near the external wiring – common to most suburban and rural houses. Air conditioners, satellite dishes, exterior lights, gate control systems, pool support equipment, patios and cabanas, phone extensions, electronic dog fences and security systems can all be struck by lightning. The lightning surges will then be carried inside the house by the wiring.

To take maximum precautions, unplug as many electrical and electronic appliances as possible if there is a storm brewing.

Remember to check both the electric sockets and the telephone and cable television connections. Surge protectors are a good aid in protecting your equipment, but in proportion to the very low risk involved, these can be very expensive. Nothing can withstand a lightning strike – it is best to totally unplug.

Source: lightningsafety.com

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Know What’s Below: Call Before You Dig

No matter how large or small your digging project may be, remember to call 811 before you dig. Calling before you dig will keep you out of trouble with the law. Besides, who wants their neighbors mad at them because they caused a power outage when they dug a hole to plant a tree?

North Dakota One Call provides a single point of contact to both prevent damage to underground utility facilities and to protect public and construction contractors from contact with power, gas, water and communication lines.

For Nodak to locate underground wires, it is required by law for the member to call 811.

Nodak has approximately 4,280 miles of underground cable wire, so if the cable is cut or damaged, that could lead to loss of power for many of our members. It will also result in added cost to the person(s) responsible for the damage. There have been cases of electrocution and severe injuries caused by digging into electric lines that could have been avoided with a simple call to 811.

How do you know whose line it is?

Homeowners should be aware that private facilities such as septic, water, gas lines from a propane tank, private secondary wiring running to an outbuilding or shed, an invisible pet fence or sprinkler systems WILL NOT be marked. In these instances, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure any privately owned underground wires on the member side of the meter are located prior to digging. Electric secondary lines should be located by an electrician. The property owner or tenant is responsible for contacting a private locater and paying the fee for locating private underground facilities.

What are private electric underground facilities?

Private underground facilities, or member-owned facilities, are those facilities that were installed after the meter. Also, if overhead distribution lines serve the property and the power is then distributed on the property by underground service facilities, those service facilities may be considered private. If the homeowner’s electric meter is located on the property line, then that electric line from the meter to the house is considered privately owned and will not be located.

Where are private facilities found?

Private facilities are found everywhere, including single family homes, multifamily housing units, industrial areas, trailer parks, shopping centers and sometimes in the road right-of-way. Other private facilities can include: natural gas farm taps, natural gas or propane gas underground piping to buildings, gas grills, pool heaters, private water systems, data communication lines, underground sprinkler systems, invisible fences and many others.

Unless the property owner participates as a registered facility operator of North Dakota One Call, private or member-owned facilities will not be marked or notified. If you have a question on whether a facility in your excavation area is considered private, please contact that local utility office.

How the 811 process works:
  • Call 8-1-1 to submit a locate request 2-3 business days prior to the project. North Dakota One Call is available 24/7 and the call is free.
  • Wait the required amount of time for affected utility operators to respond to the request. Nodak typically responds to a locate request within 24-48 hours (1-2 business days).
  • Check that all affected utility operators have responded and marked underground utilities. See the color code chart above to know what flag color represents which utility.
  • Respect the flags. Please keep the markers in place until the project is complete.
  • As always, proceed and dig with caution!
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