Brian Kalk: Reliable Power Grid Needed To "Keep The Lights On"


We take many things for granted: electricity is one.  Even when the power goes out we assume that the lights will come back on quickly, and usually they do. We need to ensure this is always the case in North Dakota, and that means having a reliable electric grid.

Reliability is a key factor in the ability to deliver power statewide.  Delivering the power requires an adequate transmission and distribution system.  Most of us are aware of the distribution side which is lines that directly feed our homes and businesses.  Transmission lines deliver power from the electricity generation facilities to the distribution systems, which can be many miles away. Transmission lines are a critical element in reliability.  Without a properly sized transmission system, power demands will not be met and “black outs” may occur.

Until recently, North Dakota had not seen any major transmission lines constructed since the late 1970s.  The demand for electricity has prompted the Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve several critical transmission lines to meet the growing demand and reliability concerns in our state.  These lines crisscross our state and are vitally important to maintaining reliability.  While our energy demands are growing dramatically in the western part of the state, eastern North Dakota is also growing. The transmission lines I am speaking of are owned by organizations such as Basin Electric, Minnkota Power, and Xcel Energy.

In each of these cases there were numerous issues that surfaced, which required a steady hand and the ability to balance competing demands. Construction of major transmission lines is not an easy proposition.  Once the PSC requirements are completed and met, I move the projects forward for approval. It is not uncommon for there to be specific conditions on the PSC orders where we rely on other stakeholders to exercise their expertise before construction begins. Examples of this may be final input from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service dealing with endangered species or a final ‘Letter of Concurrence’ from the State Historic Preservation Office on cultural issues.

Once construction begins, the PSC often receive requests from the investing power company to make minor modifications to address landowner concerns.  It is a fluid process where we maintain regular communications with everyone involved.

We have a responsibility to maintain electric grid reliability.  If we want to keep the “lights on” in North Dakota to support the business and residential growth across the state, we need to continue to invest in all types of electricity generation, and in building and maintaining transmission lines.

I look at our future and see challenges that will be met.  I see tremendous opportunities for North Dakota to continue to grow, prosper, and lead our country to energy security.  It will take a steady and sure hand to keep the process moving forward.