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COMMENTARY: Coal Creek sale is smart energy policy

  • Jul 20, 2021 3:49 pm GMT
Litchfield Independent Review

Last year, Great River Energy announced it would close the Coal Creek Station, a massive 1,150-megawatt power plant in North Dakota, if it could not find a new buyer. Fortunately, a company has stepped forward to purchase Coal Creek, and rural electric co-op board members should vote to approve the sale.

Coal Creek Station is one of the most reliable, affordable power plants in the entire country, and recent rolling blackouts in California, Texas, and several other midwestern states have shown we need as many reliable power plants on the grid as possible.

In fact, the regional electric grid to which Minnesota belongs has already been stressed several times this year. First, by the polar vortex of February and more recently between June 24 through July 5, when electricity demand surged but wind turbines produced less than 1% of their potential output, according to federal data.

Rural electric co-ops were able to keep the lights on thanks to reliable coal plants, like Coal Creek Station.

Selling the plant will also be good for keeping electric bills as low as possible because according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, Coal Creek produces some of the most affordable electricity in the United States.

The sale will also benefit the environment because the new owners plan to install equipment on the plant to catch its carbon dioxide emissions and store them safely underground. This technology is like putting a catalytic converter on a car to catch pollution and run cleaner.

It's true that this technology still has a lot to prove, but all new energy innovations need an opportunity to prove their worth on the market.

Groups who oppose the sale claim carbon capture is too risky, but their alternative plan of relying on a grid powered by wind, solar, and battery storage would be far riskier.

A recent Wood Mackenzie analysis estimates there will be 741,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of battery storage installed in the entire world by 2030. This may sound like a lot, but it is only 1% of Minnesota's annual electricity consumption.

In contrast, Coal Creek generated 9.1 million MWh in 2019, 12 times more than the total estimated storage capacity available globally by 2030. Anyone who argues battery storage is the solution is not being serious.

The sale of Coal Creek is good news for the reliability and affordability of our electricity supply, and it will also provide North Dakota and Minnesota an opportunity to lead the world in new carbon capture technology. Co-op board members should vote to approve the sale.

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Thomas Adams's picture
Thomas Adams on Jul 22, 2021

Congratulations on an article that is based on facts and the realities of the need for a stable, robust, resilient, affordable power grid.  With a diverse supply of generation sources, we would be foolish not to use them all.  Worse yet, lives are at stake when our power grid is made unreliable by a conscious decision not to have a diversity of generation sources.

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