Port: Great River Energy went from replacing coal with wind to signing up for more coal power

Back when GRE first announced plans to close coal creek, the plan was to use the transmission line to feed North Dakota-based wind power into the Minnesota market. Coal power was to be replaced by

Coal Creek Station power plant near Underwood, N.D. Special to The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — Earlier this year, Great River Energy reached an agreement with Rainbow Energy to sell Coal Creek Station , North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant, which, for decades, has helped power customers in Minnesota.

But that agreement had to be approved by GRE's 28 member cooperatives.

That happened today.

Approval required a supermajority, and that threshold was met.

“This is another huge step forward in securing a long-term, viable future for Coal Creek Station, its workers and the communities that depend on the hundreds of jobs at Coal Creek and the nearby Falkirk Mine,” Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford said in a joint statement. “We’re grateful to GRE and its member cooperatives for approving this sale, and to Rainbow Energy Center and Nexus Line for their investment, which will support U.S. energy security and help maintain a strong regional power grid for consumers who depend on the reliable, affordable electricity provided by North Dakota’s abundant lignite coal.”



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Both Rainbow Energy Center and Nexus Line are subsidiaries of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp . One entity will own the plant, the other the transmission line which feeds into Minnesota. The latter was considered the more valuable of the two.

Back when GRE first announced plans to close coal creek, the plan was to use the transmission line to feed North Dakota-based wind power into the Minnesota market. Coal power was to be replaced by wind power. The cooperative would "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," per their statement at the time .

Something changed.

I suspect reality set in.

Political operatives and green energy lobbyists have many in the public believing a fairy tale in which baseload energy sources like coal plants can be shut down and replaced by intermittent sources like wind and solar. Only events this winter, when vast swaths of Americans suffered through rolling blackouts amid some frigid weather, have shown the folly of taking baseload power offline.

Great River Energy changed its tune.

Not only has the sale of Coal Creek Station been sold to another company that will continue to operate it, but GRE's member cooperatives also approved an agreement to continue purchasing coal-fired power.


"GRE will buy 1,050 megawatts of power from Rainbow Energy Center for approximately two years, followed by 300 megawatts for approximately eight years," Burgum's office reported in a press release.

They went from replacing a coal plant with wind power to continuing to buy coal power from the plant they're selling.

Why would they do this?

Because they still need coal power.

There aren't any good alternatives.

Wind and solar are not baseload energy sources. The prices of natural gas are too volatile. Nuclear energy comes with its own basket of political problems (a topic for another column).


That leaves coal.

Which makes carbon capture projects, such as Project Tundra right here in North Dakota, all the more important. These initiatives have been derided by the ideologues and partisans and paid-off pundits as boondoggles and government sops to the coal industry, but they're not.

Carbon capture is relevant because coal power is still necessary. If we're going to keep using coal — remember what's been keeping the lights on during this heatwave we've been living through — it makes sense to invest money into finding ways to use it more cleanly.

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

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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