New is replacing old at Montana Dakota Utilities Heskett and Lewis and Clark stations. The company is changing to different power generation units at the Mandan and Sidney, Mont. locations.
There are 77 employees running the two station currently: 47 in Mandan and 30 in Sidney. The retiring of two coal-fired electric generation units at Heskett and one at Lewis and Clark will mean only 10 total employees are needed once those are off the grid.
As MDU makes the switch from coal fired units to natural gas combustion turbines, cost is expected to go down, and so is the number of employees needed to run the stations. Employment at the Lewis and Clark and Heskett stations will be reduced by more than 60 people.
MDU spokesman Mark Hanson says they hope to keep those employees on until units are retired.
“We will also work with employees to retrain them if there's another position within the company that they’re interested in and make sense between the employee and what that position is to retrain them and they can continue to work for the company,” Hanson said.
One unit at the Lewis and Clark station will be retired by the end of 2020 and two units at the station in Mandan will close at the end of 2021. At Heskett in Mandan, MDU is looking to construct a simple cycle natural gas combustion turbine, in addition to a similar turbine that's already there. The Lewis and Clark station also has two gas fire turbines. Hanson says the new turbines will be more cost efficient and can power up and down quickly.
“They can be brought on and taken off the grid in relatively short amount of time. You can ramp them up in a matter of, you know, less than 30-60 minutes to get power if you need that on the grid,” Hanson said.
Hanson says by the time the plants retire, the average years of service for employees at Heskett will be 14 years and at 10 years at Lewis and Clark.
Hanson says this fall the company will submit an advance determination of prudence for the new turbine to the Public Service Commission for review.