The federal government is poised to spend mega millions of tax dollars to attempt to stave off the inevitable: the demise of King Coal. The coal industry is in a deep, dark mine and is hoping the feds will drop a lifeline into the mine shaft and pull them out.
Carbon capture technology has generated a lot of controversy–but little private investment–due to its lack of profitability and efficiency. So why is a proposal to retrofit an aging coal-powered plant in North Dakota with smokestack scrubbers receiving millions of federal taxpayer dollars?
Ask Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who has directed more than $30 million in Department of Energy funding to Project Tundra. Let’s be fair, it is his job to go after federal dollars and do anything he can to keep business in his state. However, it is also his job to ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely.
The project would install a carbon capture system at the Milton R. Young Station, a two-unit plant that has run on lignite coal from the nearby Center Mine since it began operating in 1970. The captured carbon would then be piped to the Bakken region for injection into oil wells in a process known as enhanced oil recovery.
Hoeven recently secured a $10 million DOE grant that will go toward a preliminary engineering study for Project Tundra. State and coal industry sources have also contributed, with the aim of keeping the coal industry alive in North Dakota. Other help will come from tax incentives for carbon capture projects that Congress passed in 2018.
Yet all that money may be for naught, given the track record of similar projects.
Project Tundra was pushed by the Lignite Energy Council, which Hoeven is close to — the council donated $21,000 to his reelection campaigns.
Other partners in the project include the Minnkota Power Cooperative, which operates the plant, the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center, and the North Dakota Industrial Commission. Minnkota’s Stacy Dahl estimated the cost of the project at $1.6 billion.
Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan, Canada, and the Petra Nova plant in Texas have attempted similar projects to no avail. Project Tundra's boosters say it’s needed to keep coal alive. Many studies conclude that carbon capture–particularly involving enhanced oil recovery–amounts to what is called “expensive greenwashing.”
North Dakota should get in front of the inevitable end to our coal industry. (See the bankruptcy of Peabody Coal) We should be retraining the coal employees and be ready when the coal plants and mines close (see Great Rivers announced closing of its plant in Underwood).
If carbon sequestration is the “Holy Grail” for the coal industry, the lignite industry should put their money where their mouth is and finance this project. It should not pilfer our hard-earned tax dollars in a last ditch effort to rescue a failing industry.
Gruchalla, Fargo, is a member of C.L.E.A.N. (Citizens Local Energy Action Network)