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Port: North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant to close in two years, delivering another hammer blow to state's economy

PHOTO: Coal Creek Station
Coal Creek Station is the largest power plant in North Dakota (Great River Energy photo)
Contributed / Great River Energy
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MINOT, N.D. — Last week, I wrote that Great River Energy, the cooperative that owns the Coal Creek Station power plant in central North Dakota, was expected to announce that plant's closure this week.

It will be announced today that the plant will, indeed, be closing by the middle of 2022. The delay is likely due to the plant's existing obligations to the regional power grid. A statement from the company I've seen, but which hasn't been released publicly yet, says Great River is willing to entertain offers to purchase, though my sources say those efforts won't be earnest.

The focus, as I noted last week, is on closing.

Coal Creek is, and will be for at least the next couple of years, North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant. The facility employs hundreds of North Dakotans, directly, and thousands more in mining and other types of businesses, which depend on the commerce created by the power plant.

Those folks are finding out today, amid the global pandemic and already turbulent economic climate, that their jobs don't have much of a future.

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You'll be hearing a lot of hot air from certain politicians, not to mention lobbyists and certain political commentators who run a lot of ads for the wind industry, that the demise of Coal Creek was about the poor economics of coal. They'll talk about the rise of natural gas.

Anything to distract from reality, which is that this facility and the jobs it created were sacrificed on the altar of politics and short-term economic thinking.

There has been a gold rush in building out wind farms in recent years, one driven by massive government subsidies which we're frequently promised will expire, but never seem to, you know, expire. That gold rush has packed North Dakota's power transmission network.

There's no room left.

Something had to give.

Coal Creek Station is it. With that facility's demise, transmission capacity opens for wind.

It wasn't just that the government put its finger on the scale of the power market in favor of wind.

It wasn't just that coal had to compete with wind energy, so heavily subsidized its producers could give it away for free.

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Wind energy is in desperate need of transmission capacity currently being used by coal energy. So coal had to go.

Perhaps political force in North Dakota employs more flacks and lobbyists than the wind industry these days. Around Great River's announcement today, those folks will be working very hard to muddy the waters.

Don't believe the fairy tale they're weaving for you. This wasn't about economics.

This was politics, and every politician and regulator and political activist who droned on about the "all of the above" energy strategy while tilting the energy market playing field toward wind deserves blame.

Some North Dakotans will be losing their jobs because of this. All of us are going to pay the price for coal's demise in the form of higher utility rates and diminished reliability.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

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

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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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