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Coal Creek Station's transmission infrastructure attracting interest

image credit: © Great River Energy
Peter Key's picture
Freelance Writer, Editor, Consultant Self-employed

I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

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  • Jan 5, 2021
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Great River Energy plans to close its Coal Creek Station (pictured above) outside Underwood, N.D., in the second half of next year, and so the Maple Grove, Minn.-based utility has been looking for a buyer for the lignite-fired plant, which has a capacity of more than 1,100 megawatts.

Great River CEO David Saggau said earlier this year he essentially tried to give the plant away but found no takers, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune story by Mike Hughlett.

Now, however, Hughlett reports that the situation has changed. And one reason is the 436 mile, high-voltage direct current transmission line that brings power from the plant to the Twin Cities area.

Priti Patel, Great River’s chief transmission officer, told Hughlett that the generation cooperative has received “tremendous interest” in both the plant and the transmission line, with some potential buyers evaluating just the plant, others looking at the plant and transmission line, and still others kicking the tires of both.

North Dakota is still crazy about coal, so the state is working to craft a deal that keeps Coal Creek alive.

Environmentalists, of course, have a different take, and want the transmission line from the plant to be used to bring wind and solar power from North Dakota to Minnesota.

Whatever happens, Coal Creek is the latest instance in which the transmission infrastructure attached to a coal-fired power plant could wind up being a valuable asset even after the plant closes.

For example, early last year, Daybreak Power said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had accepted its application for a preliminary permit for a proposed 2,200 pumped-storage hydropower project that would use water from Lake Powell and the transmission infrastructure associated with the Navajo Generating Station, a 2.25 gigawatt plant on Navajo land near Page, Ariz., that was closed in 2019 and had its smokestacks demolished last month.

The transmission infrastructure associated with shuttered or shuttering coal plants is valuable for at least three reasons. The largest, of course, is that getting transmission projects approved and built is a very lengthy and expensive proposition. Another is that the infrastructure often runs through areas ripe for wind and solar development. And finally, the plants themselves may become sites for renewable generation.

As a result, as coal plants continue closing over this decade, expect to see the transmission infrastructure associated with them continue to be repurposed.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 5, 2021

Proving that they can be repurposed and still employ workers in the region will be critical to public acceptance, especially in coal-heavy regions like ND

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