CEO Talk

Paul Sukut

Finding new ways to work together

by Paul Sukut

We’re in the season of regrowth. Renewal. Re-energization.

Many of our members had a tough spring. Blizzards on top of flooding on top of ice and rain on top of wind and more snow. 

For the employees who bring electricity back to our member-owners at the end of every mile of distribution line, the work was relentless. Working to bring power back to every homeowner and business on every line takes time, especially when many miles of line are down between each member.

That’s what makes us unique as a cooperative. We serve all our members, no matter whether it’s cheap and easy or expensive and difficult. Cooperatives aren’t in business to make a profit; we’re in business to serve our members.

Part of our service is the cost of the product we provide – electricity. We understand how important affordable electricity is to our members and their communities. While electricity should be affordable, it must also be reliable and safe.

We have made a number of changes at Basin Electric in the past few years that have really changed how we work. Entering into the Southwest Power Pool was a big one. At the time we made that decision, we couldn’t have known all the ways we would be challenged with needing to think about how we work differently.

It’s been a lesson in teamwork and collaboration.

At Basin Electric, we are all in this together. Employees who are willing to think beyond how they’ve worked their entire careers are finding those areas where a nudge here, a pinch there, can start adding up, in both dollars and cents and new ways of thinking.

For example, our marketing group has been working with employees in our power plant control rooms to find tweaks in how the power plant is operated so that each unit can take advantage of pricing in the market.

Shutting down and starting up a coal-based power plant can be expensive. During poor economic conditions it may make better economic sense to keep units on-line, potentially at a small loss, than to incur the more expensive start-up costs. 

There have been great strides made through the innovative thinking of our power plant employees. At Leland Olds Station, they found ways to lower the minimum level of a unit to 92 megawatts, when previously they could only go down to 98 megawatts. That extra 6 megawatts means Southwest Power Pool has more leeway to work with when fitting this coal-based power plant into the market. In times when market prices would be considered poor for the plant due to an overabundance of wind or less power needed due to low loads, being able to lower generation an extra 6 megawatts means the plant can reduce loses by potentially $1,500 less throughout that day.

Being able to ramp up or ramp down a coal-based power plant more quickly means marketing can capture value when an unforeseen market condition occurs. 

Laramie River Station employees found ways to be able to ramp up or down 4 megawatts/hour, when previously they could ramp up or down 3 megawatts/hour. The closer a unit can follow the market flow, the more money can be made. When the power market unexpectedly dropped for one hour on Dec. 24, 2018, for example, that extra 1 megawatt ramp rate meant Laramie River Station made an extra $400 for that single hour than they would have otherwise.

These types of market changes happen many times throughout each week, adding up to significant added benefits.

Our BE Leaders program, spearheaded by Human Resources and dedicated to empowering our employees to explore their leadership potential, is spinning out some great ideas, as well. We will be sharing those stories with our employees and the membership over the coming months.

Inspiration comes from talking things out, finding areas to work differently, and giving people the opportunity to try things. If we fail, we should fail quickly, and move on.

Combine inspiration with teamwork, and we have the potential to impact the price of power over time. We’re doing this because we work for our members. Keep an eye on us.

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