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Posted 5/01/13 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

It took a lot of gentle prodding and pushing by the Watford City Franchise Committee, but the new area service agreement between Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. (MDU) and McKenzie Electric Cooperative (MEC) is good news for everyone in the Watford City area.
While there are those in the city and the county who have very strong feelings about who they want to be their power supplier, with the growth of Watford City’s city limits stretching far beyond what was once its physical boundary for the past 50-plus years, the need for some form of order in dealing with who was is going to supply power to these new areas within the city limits was becoming abundantly obvious. Under the old franchise agreements that had served the city for years, MDU held an unlimited franchise, which allowed the company to be the sole electrical provider in the city and into any area that was annexed into the city limits. MEC, on the other hand, had a limited franchise, which allowed it to only provide electricity to areas within the city which they had always serviced.
Had there been no oil boom and had Watford City not have suddenly experienced the huge growth in residential and commercial development areas that were requesting annexation into the city limits, those franchise agreements would have probably worked well into the future. But with the growth of the city limits, it became clear to city officials that the question of which electric company was going to provide the power into these new areas had to be resolved quickly.
The question was would it be MDU, whose franchise granted them that right, or would it be MEC, which had a limited franchise and was limited to only providing power within the city limits to its existing customers?
While the city knew that something had to change, so did the developers who have big plans for housing and commercial developments. They wanted answers as to who their electric power provider was going to be. And with delays costing them thousands of dollars or perhaps even their entire development project, the city turned to the only two groups that could provide the solution to the problem - MDU and MEC.
In what turned out to be a real life game of Monopoly®, those two companies had to sit down and begin swapping the pieces of the map that surrounds Watford City. In some cases, MDU was willing to give up service in newly-annexed areas of the city. In other cases, MEC elected to do the same thing. Obviously, the swapping of service wasn’t easy on either party. But they stayed at the bargaining table until both sides were satisfied that they had struck a fair and equitable sharing of the power growth in Watford City.
And in the end, everyone is going to be a winner with MDU and MEC reaching an agreement on a new area service agreement with the city. Developers now know who they can turn to to get electrical service run into their developments. MDU and MEC know what areas of the city’s new growth they will be responsible for and can start making their plans to bring power to those areas. And city officials, who will finally be free of dealing with the power issue, can move on to other big issues like building the roads and other infrastructure needed to serve a growing community.
Both MDU and MEC are to be congratulated for working together to solve this problem and to reach this joint agreement. It shows that they are both putting the needs of Watford City and its residents ahead of their own.