Letter: Coal wins and solar loses once again in North Dakota

Gruchalla points out the Colfax Solar Wind Farm would have been paid for by private investment, but the Coal Creek Station will require millions in tax dollars.

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Isn’t ironic that the same week the Coal Creek coal-fired power plant in Mercer County received a tax-fueled buyout, the future Colfax Solar 300MW project in Richland County was killed by two of three Colfax Township (population 330) board members.

Great River Energy, the present owner of the Coal Creek plant, announced they would close the plant because it lost $170 million in 2019 and was deemed unprofitable. It was bought by Rainbow Energy, a highly politically-connected company. Rainbow will depend on 45Q federal tax credits and millions of North Dakota tax cuts and other dollars raided from the ND Legacy Fund. The buyout feasibility is mostly based on an unproven method of CO2 sequestration called Project Tundra. They claim pumping carbon dioxide underground will be safe and effective. The problem with this thinking is that it’s unproven. It’s never been done on a utility scale.


  • Firm plans smaller footprint for $300M solar project south of Fargo The Flickertail Solar Project in North Dakota's Richland County would involve more than $300 million of investment and would provide 300 construction jobs, if approved. It has encountered resistance in Colfax Township, where a meeting on a scaled-back proposal is planned for Tuesday night.
  • Bismarck-based energy company to buy North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant Rainbow Energy Marketing publicized plans to acquire the financially troubled Coal Creek Station from Great River Energy on Wednesday, after North Dakota leaders made rescuing the plant a top priority since its planned closure was announced a year ago.

Banks are running away from coal plants and other forms of carbon-based energy. They will not invest. Great River could not find a buyer for the plant.
Finally, the North Dakota Legislature came to the rescue. They’ve been convinced by the coal guys (big campaign contributors) that Project Tundra is the great savior for coal country. They believe saving a few hundred coal jobs is worth the billions the project will cost the taxpayer.

The Colfax Solar project will be paid for by private investment. There will be millions of dollars paid to the land owners and thousands in tax dollars for the township, county and state. The annual tax dollars for the township is more than double their entire budget. This solar project will be built somewhere, the demand is there. Our neighbors want to buy solar energy. If Colfax doesn’t want the dollars it will bring in, someone else will gladly take them. This would be the biggest missed opportunity this township has ever, or maybe will, suffer.


The biggest complaint against the solar project seems to be looks as it alters the rural appearance of the neighborhood. Have you driven by a coal plant and adjoining coal mine lately?

Colfax is not an island, the township officers have to get out of there and see what is happening in other parts of the state, country and the world. The train is leaving the station Colfax, time to get on board.

Ed Gruchalla, Fargo, is with C.L.E.A.N., Citizens Local Energy Action Network

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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