Future Of McLean County Power Plant In Jeopardy

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Underwood – Between Underwood and Washburn lies Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Power Plant. It’s one of several coal-fired facilities that dot the North Dakota Landscape. But with Great River Energy dealing with financial difficulties, the future of this plant is in jeopardy.

“It’d be devastating, from Minot to Bismarck and all points west and east, it would be a huge loss,” said Retired Miner Daryl Bykonen

That’s the general sentiment people here in Underwood have about the rumors regarding what may or may not happen with the Coal Creek Station.

Great River Energy told employees at a meeting in late January about financial issues facing the plant, which sent rumors of a possible closure spreading like wildfire.

Leon Weisenberger is the Mayor of Underwood, and knows about mining first hand. He works at the Freedom Mine near Beulah, he says a plant closure could spell the end of his town.

“There’s a lot of cash flow here through the mine and the plant, I think Underwood, Washburn, Turtle Lake — you’re looking at ghost towns,” said Mayor Weisenberger

Several residents KX News spoke with echoed his thoughts.

“I hope it doesn’t, but it would be, not just underwood but it would hit all these small communities around here. It would affect the whole county,” said retired miner Monty Trondson.

“It [would] be tough, it [would] be really tough, there would be a lot of people looking for jobs, we’d lose all these communities for sure, it would be totally devastating,” said retired miner Daryl Bykonen.

A closure would be especially devastating not just to the 265 workers at the plant, but the over 500 who work at the nearby Falkirk Mine, which has a “life of the plant” contract with Great River, meaning an end to the plant would ripple down to the mine.

Falkirk, mines lignite coal for Coal Creek. Steve Van Dyke with the Lignite Energy Council says the loss of Coal Creek would be a huge blow.

“Since 1988, basically in North Dakota, the Lignite industry has been the old faithful of industries, we’ve produced about 30 million tons every year, we’ve paid the state around 100-million dollars, so to lose an asset like that, you know, would really be a loss to the state of North Dakota,” said Van Dyke.

Great River Energy says it’s putting together 13 teams to look at solutions for the plant as well as conducting an analysis of the economic conditions facing Coal Creek, and any changes regarding the station will be announced at the appropriate time.

But the cloud of uncertainty already hangs over hundreds of people’s heads – and Mayor Weisenburger says it’s starting to affect their day-to-day lives.

“A lot of people in town are — I have talked to them, they can’t sleep at night, worried about when they go to work, what’s gonna be there for them, if they’re gonna have a meeting stating they have a year left, they have two years left or a month, just a few months, a lot of these plants and mines can almost be shut down overnight,” said Weisenberger.

Governor Doug Burgum also issued a statement on the matter to KX News saying…

“We’re committed to working with Great River Energy on finding a path forward for Coal Creek that preserves jobs, baseload electricity production and the ethanol plant, which are important to local communities and the entire region. We continue to support research on carbon capture, utilization and storage, and other clean-coal technology, to ensure that lignite coal remains a viable power source for years to come in North Dakota.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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