Port: Coal Creek Station isn't being replaced by natural gas, it's being replaced by about $1 billion in wind subsidies

PHOTO: Coal Creek Station
Coal Creek Station is the largest power plant in North Dakota. Courtesy of Great River Energy / Special to The Forum
Contributed / Great River Energy
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MINOT, N.D. — The close of Coal Creek Station, North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant, would be socially and economically devastating for the central part of the state.

If it closes, schools and businesses will also close. Communities around the facility will wither.

It's an ugly reality.

To gloss over that reality, certain people prefer a particular narrative for why the plant is closing.

It's the market at work, they say. It's cheap natural gas that has done coal in, they insist.


An example of this narrative at work came last week from my fellow columnist Mike McFeely . In his piece, he touted research from the federal Department of Energy, showing the growth in gas-fired electricity on our grid.

That's all true, as far as it goes. The same fracking-driven renaissance in the oil and gas industry, which has been a boon to the Bakken oil fields and North Dakota's economy over the last decade, has made vast volumes of very cheap natural gas available.

That has created stiff competition for coal in the overall energy markets.

The problem with applying that narrative to the situation with Coal Creek Station is that Great River Energy, the Minnesota-based company which currently owns the facility, isn't planning to replace the coal plant with gas power, despite North Dakota's plentiful gas resources.

They're planning to replace it with wind power.

Don't take my word for it. That's what the GRE folks said in their announcement, which you can read right here .

The company plans to "retire the 1,151-megawatt (MW) Coal Creek Station in the second half of 2022" and then "add 1,100 MW of wind energy purchases by the end of 2023."

"We are taking advantage of cost-competitive renewables and reliable access to market energy while fostering innovation as the technology of our industry evolves," Great River Energy CEO David Saggau says in the release.


Note that he's not saying they're taking advantage of "cost-competitive" natural gas.

He's talking about wind energy.

What makes wind energy "cost-competitive" compared to coal and even natural gas?

Lots and lots and lots of taxpayer subsidies.

According to calculations by Isaac Orr at the Center of the American Experience , a right-leaning Minnesota-based think tank, the wind power Great River Energy plans to buy will get about $1 billion in taxpayer subsidies over the next decade.

The wind industry and its various flacks and mouthpieces would love for you to believe that the close of Coal Creek was all about natural gas.

In that fairy tale, the villain is the creative destruction of the marketplac e. The inexorable tides of human progress. As they tell it, coal is being replaced with gas, something that's cheaper and works better.

But that's all it is.


A fairy tale.

Out here in the real world, Coal Creek Station is facing closure, and the communities that thrive around it are contemplating social and economic calamity so that Great River Energy can hop on a government gravy train for the next decade or so.

But corporate greed, enabled by government largesse, is a far less cromulent narrative.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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