Minnesota co-ops approve North Dakota power plant sale

July 30, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Member cooperatives of a Minnesota electric company endorsed a deal Friday to sell a financially troubled coal-fueled power plant in North Dakota to a Bismarck firm.

Great River Energy said its 28 member cooperatives at a special meeting approved the sale of the Coal Creek Station and an associated transmission line that runs from the plant’s location in central North Dakota to Minnesota.

Terms of the deal have not been publicly disclosed. The company said the deal is expected to be finalized later this year.

The company said the cooperatives also approved an agreement to purchase electricity over the next decade from the plant’s new owner, Rainbow Energy Center, a marketer that sells wholesale electric power.

Great River said in a statement the transaction could save its members about $130 million, instead of shuttering the power plant. The company did not elaborate on how those savings would be realized.

Great River said the Coal Creek plant lost $170 million in energy sales in 2019. The company had said it would shutter the plant in the second half of 2022 if no buyer was found. It had offered to sell the plant for just $1.

North Dakota officials have hailed the sale as a savior for hundreds of jobs at the plant and an associated lignite coal mine that are about 50 miles north of Bismarck.

’This is another huge step forward in securing a long-term, viable future for Coal Creek Station,” Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement.

The plant — the largest of seven in the state — will be replaced by a similar amount of wind energy by the end of 2023, after a $1.2 billion investment, the company said. The plant that has operated for more than 40 years employs 260 workers. North American Coal’s Falkirk Mine supplies lignite to the plant and employs about 500 workers.

Rainbow Energy President Stacy Tschider said the sale “is a win-win for all stakeholders.”

In a statement, he renewed the company’s promise of incorporating technology within five years of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from the plant by injecting them underground for permanent storage.

Rainbow Energy buys surplus power from utilities and resells the electricity to other companies and has not owned electric wires, power stations or other utility infrastructure.

Opponents believe the sale is delaying an inevitable closure, as coal continues to be eliminated from energy portfolios and regulations mount to curb the climate change effects of burning the fuel.

The Sierra Club, a San Francisco-based group that wants to curb the use of fossil fuels, has been critical of the sale and argued the process “lacked transparency and engagement.”

“The vote today sets the stage for an environmental and financial fiasco,” Margaret Levin, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “There is no reasonable scenario where this ends well for consumers and our shared environment.”