“Not a good day on Main Street in coal country:” Lignite advocates react to Coal Creek Station closure plan

Local News

Hundreds of people in North Dakota’s coal country got the news they were dreading today: Coal Creek Station — the state’s largest power plant — is scheduled to go offline permanently by the end of 2022.

“There’s 700 moms and dads going home from work today that won’t have jobs in a couple years,” says Jason Bohrer, the President and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council.

The move to close the plant seemed to be months in the making. Back in February, Great River Energy told employees that coal-powered generation just wasn’t making economic sense anymore.

The Minnesota-based company says about 260 people will be out of the job two years from now. But Jason Bohrer says the damage will be much worse, because of the nearby Falkirk Mine, which provides coal for the plant.

“They’ve got close to 500 employees there who are connected at the hip to Coal Creek Station,” he says. “That power plant goes away, so does the mine.”

“It’s definitely not a good day on Main Street in coal country,” says Mark Pierce, who mines coal near Beulah.

Pierce, who manages a Facebook page to advocate for the coal industry, says he knows plenty of people who will be hurting in the coming days.

“We can talk about all this stuff that you want — power this, power that, where it comes from — the reality is, there’s people,” Pierce says. “There are people behind the black rock coal. There are people behind the electrons that go down the transmission lines. There’s people.”

Great River Energy says it’s open to buyers — or even essentially giving the plant to another party at no cost — but so far, they’ve had no takers.

“The production costs of that particular plant are much higher than the market values it at,” says David Saggau, President & CEO of Great River Energy. “So the losses we’re avoiding by the closure of the plant are losses that a purchaser would have to incur in order to take ownership of the plant.”

But finding a buyer is now the Lignite Energy Council’s goal — and they say they’re not ready to throw in the towel. “If we work together — the state, the lignite council, our research programs, our federal delegation — I think we can work together to make that transfer more attractive than Great River Energy could on their own,” Bohrer says.

For now, the countdown clock is ticking for the 40-year-old power plant — and the hundreds of people who depend on it for work.

Great River Energy provides power for Minnesota and Wisconsin.

It says after Coal Creek Station is retired — 95 percent of its power grid will be free of carbon dioxide emissions.

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