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ND Coal Plant Could Produce Jobs through Reclamation

Industry observers say the coal industry isn't just closing smaller, inefficient plants. Larger plants also are being phased out due to shifts in the energy market. (Adobe Stock)
Industry observers say the coal industry isn't just closing smaller, inefficient plants. Larger plants also are being phased out due to shifts in the energy market. (Adobe Stock)
May 18, 2020

UNDERWOOD, N.D. -- North Dakota leaders want to find a new owner for the state's largest coal-fired power plant, which is slated to close in 2022. But environmental groups say that's the wrong way to go.

Minnesota-based Great River Energy has announced it will close the Coal Creek Station, citing a difficult marketplace for coal energy. Gov. Doug Bergum called the facility the state's most efficient and updated coal plant and said he'd like to preserve the 260 jobs there.

Gene Wirtz with the Dakota Resource Council said the best way to do that is to set the site up for reclamation, not keep it running.

"I think some of those workers that are doing the mining right now could also speed up the reclamation," Wirtz said. "There's a lot of dirt that has to be moved and a lot of soil to be regenerated, so it produces as much as it did before."

Wirtz estimated reclamation jobs could last for several years. A recent study of a similar debate in Montana, where the Colstrip Power Plant is being phased out, found a robust cleanup there would create hundreds of good-paying jobs and permanently improve local groundwater. Industry observers have said the report resonates with many other communities dependent on aging coal-fired plants.

According to analysis by Reuters, U.S. companies retired or converted roughly 15,000 megawatts of coal power last year - the second-fastest pace on record. Wirtz said the writing is on the wall for these plants.

"Natural gas is so cheap right now, and wind power has gotten cheaper, too," he said. "You can't compete. It's just economics."

The Coal Creek plant began operating in the late 1970s. Wirtz said it's a challenge for the surrounding communities that have to adapt their economies, but he noted these facilities weren't meant to last forever. Some states are working with brokerage firms to redevelop sites once they've been cleaned up.

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