ND PSC to investigate 3 recent power outages in north Fargo
By: Adrian Glass-Moore , Forum News Service
FARGO, N.D. – Three recent power outages in north Fargo have prompted an inquiry by the state’s Public Service Commission into Xcel Energy’s practices.
Commission Chair Brian Kalk ordered the investigation after three consecutive days of outages beginning Saturday.
“It’s just not acceptable to have this scale of power outages,” Kalk said in a phone interview. “There was not a tornado that hit town or anything like that.”
Monday’s outage was caused by a contractor who cut through a power line, Kalk said, and part of the investigation is to find whether proper digging procedure was followed.
“We’re lucky someone wasn’t killed,” Kalk said.
The Public Service Commission has directed Xcel Energy to make changes in the past, including trimming interfering trees, hiring an electric engineer dedicated to just Fargo, and installing special electronic switches that can reroute power in case of an outage.
“I want their full investigation of what caused the outages; why they could not have been prevented,” Kalk said.
Xcel Energy will present the commission with a full report.
“The public deserves a response,” he added
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U.S. Secretary of Energy Moniz Appoints Dr. Brian Kalk to the National Coal Council
BISMARCK, ND – Dr. Brian Kalk, Chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission and Vice Chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC) Clean Coal Subcommittee, has been appointed to the National Coal Council. He was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, to represent the views of Public Service Commissions on the Council.
The National Coal Council was chartered in 1984 under the Federal Advisory Committees Act. Its purpose is to inform and make recommendations to the Secretary of Energy on all matters relating to coal and the coal industry.
Dr. Kalk, a retired Marine officer, said this appointment will allow him to have an impact on the national dialogue about coal’s future.
“I am honored to have been chosen by the Secretary of Energy to fill this important position,” said Commissioner Kalk. “As the national discussion continues about pending CO2 rules, it’s critical that the voice of consumers is represented. North Dakota has a huge stake in the future of coal and coal technology. Coal must continue to be an important player in our nation’s energy future.”
Booming N.D. sees rise in call-before-you-dig requests, fines: Call center received more than 200,000 requests to locate underground utilities last year
BISMARCK — A flurry of construction activity in North Dakota generated more than 1 million requests to locate underground utilities last year, and state regulators are increasingly digging in their heels when contractors violate the state’s call-before-you-dig law.
Last week, the North Dakota Public Service Commission held its first-ever formal hearing on a case involving unintentional damage to an underground utility line. The PSC only began imposing fines for such violations in 2009 and has since levied a total of $30,000 in fines in 24 cases.
State law requires anyone doing excavation or demolition to notify the North Dakota One Call program by calling 811 at least two days in advance of digging.
Those who don’t make the call and then cause damage to underground utilities such as electrical lines and natural gas pipelines can face up to a $25,000 fine, which was increased from a maximum $5,000 fine by the 2013 Legislature. Companies also may be fined if they called 811 but still caused damage.
PSC Chairman Brian Kalk said utility companies such as Bismarck-based Montana-Dakota Utilities are showing “much less tolerance” of damage to their infrastructure and becoming more aggressive about filing complaints. The PSC currently has about 20 complaints under investigation, including 10 stemming from one company that “basically went out on a digging spree,” he said.
“This is a representation of the growing concern out there of holding people accountable for third-party damage,” he said.
North Dakota’s surge in earthwork, especially in western counties installing infrastructure and housing to accommodate oil and gas development, has spurred more calls to locate utilities, Kalk said.
Calls to 811 from contractors, utilities and homeowners in North Dakota are answered at an Iowa call center that serves multiple states.
The center received nearly 212,000 calls from North Dakota last year and issued almost 1.2 million outgoing tickets to locate underground utilities in the state, according to Ryan Schmaltz, director of education and public relations for North Dakota One Call.
“Compared to about five, six years ago, our ticket numbers have doubled,” he said.
Outgoing tickets to North Dakota increased by about 31,000, or 3 percent, last year. But in the four years prior to that, they rose by more than 25 percent annually, including a 36 percent jump from 2011 to 2012, Schmaltz said.
Last year saw a slowdown in 811 calls because lawmakers changed the rules to make utility locates valid for 21 days instead of 10 days, and because rainy weather and an October snowstorm hindered construction, he said.
Kalk said damage complaints in which the excavator failed to call 811 are usually straightforward cases. Disputes are more likely to arise when underground lines have been marked but damage still occurs, he said.
“We’ve kind of seen this coming where the cases are getting a little more complex,” he said.
The formal hearing on May 1 involved a complaint filed by Montana-Dakota Utilities against Tom’s Backhoe Service Inc. of Brainerd, Minn., for damaging a 1-inch natural gas line last July in Minot.
The contractor’s president stated in a letter to the PSC that there was no negligence in locating the roughly 2-year-old gas line but that he didn’t expect such variation in its depth.
Commission advocacy staff proposed a $500 civil penalty, finding that the contractor failed to conduct the excavation “in a careful and prudent manner.”
The commission has yet to decide on the case.
In addition to PSC fines, contractors also may face civil lawsuits from utilities trying to recover the cost of repairs. Kalk said the PSC can’t force contractors to pay for damage to utilities, but it can and does require reimbursement before agreeing to a consent order, which saves the contractor from a potentially lengthy and costly administrative hearing process.
Of the 24 cases, the excavator has reimbursed the utility for the damage in every instance, Kalk said.
Regulators say hitting an underground utility can interrupt service to customers, damage the environment and cause injury or death. In the largest fine levied by the PSC among the 23 cases, Aevenia Inc. of Moorhead, Minn., agreed to pay a $5,000 fine – the maximum allowed at the time – for failing to call for locators before digging in Mountrail County on Nov. 8, 2010. The company was excavating to install electrical cable when its equipment struck an eight-inch natural gas transmission pipeline, resulting in one fatality, two injuries and a shutdown of the pipeline, according to PSC records.
Kalk, who pushed for the PSC to start imposing fines for call-before-you-dig violations after his election to the commission in November 2008, said awareness of the One-Call Program grows with each enforcement action.
“The goal is not to fine people,” he said. “It’s to protect the underground infrastructure.”
Brian Kalk: Reliable power grid essential for N.D.’s future
By Brian Kalk April 25, 2014
BISMARCK — 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 make sure 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 the 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 blackouts may occur.
Until recently, North Dakota had not seen any major transmission lines built since the late 1970s. The demand for electricity has prompted the Public Service Commission 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 also is 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, many issues surfaced, issues that 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 gets requests from the investing power company to make minor modifications to address landowner concerns. It is a fluid process in which 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 keep investing 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.
Kalk is chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
ND PSC to investigate 3 recent power outages in north Fargo By: Adrian Glass-Moore , Forum News Service FARGO, N.D. – Three recent power outages in north Fargo have prompted an inquiry by the state’s Public Service Commission into Xcel Energy’s practices. Commission Chair Brian Kalk ordered the investigation after three consecutive days of outages beginning Saturday. “It’s just not […]
U.S. Secretary of Energy Moniz Appoints Dr. Brian Kalk to the National Coal Council 05/29/2014 BISMARCK, ND – Dr. Brian Kalk, Chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission and Vice Chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC) Clean Coal Subcommittee, has been appointed to the National Coal Council. He was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Energy, […]
Booming N.D. sees rise in call-before-you-dig requests, fines: Call center received more than 200,000 requests to locate underground utilities last year By firstname.lastname@example.org BISMARCK — A flurry of construction activity in North Dakota generated more than 1 million requests to locate underground utilities last year, and state regulators are increasingly digging in their heels when contractors violate the state’s call-before-you-dig […]