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MN Utility Shifting Away from Coal by Closing Plant in Dakotas

Coal Creek Station, North Dakota's largest coal plant, has been operating since 1979. (mnopedia.org)
Coal Creek Station, North Dakota's largest coal plant, has been operating since 1979. (mnopedia.org)
May 8, 2020

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. - The Upper Midwest will see a seismic shift in energy production after a Minnesota-based utility announced it will close a coal plant in the Dakotas.

Great River Energy, which is Minnesota's second largest electric utility, says it will retire the Coal Creek Station in North Dakota in the second-half of 2022. Great River also plans to boost its wind-energy output by the end of 2023 and have it make up two-thirds of its energy production.

J. Drake Hamilton is science policy director with the group Fresh Energy and says this is a significant move.

"They're moving very rapidly away from coal, reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions by about 95%," says Hamilton.

The coal plant in Underwood, North Dakota, accounts for half of the energy Great River sells to dozens of electric cooperatives across the region.

The plant currently employs more than 250 people. To ease the economic pain that will be felt by the community, the company says it will keep paying local taxes on the property for five years after the plant closes.

Great River says the move was largely driven by economics, with coal plants becoming less profitable in the energy market. Hamilton says it's not surprising to see the company want to shift more toward renewables such as wind energy.

"The growth of wind energy, followed secondly by solar energy, that has really upended the economics of burning coal and made it much less attractive to a large number of companies," says Hamilton.

In Minnesota, Xcel Energy last year announced plans to retire its last two coal plants in the Upper Midwest a decade earlier than scheduled.

Disclosure: Fresh Energy contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Rural/Farming, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN