Coal Creek Station is set to suspend operations in 2022. Hundreds would lose their jobs and the economic impact would be far-reaching. The station is for sale, but at what cost?

In our second segment of “The Case For Coal,” KX dives deeper into carbon capture and sequestration technology which will allow coal-fired plants to drastically cut down on carbon emissions. Critics say it’s an unproven technology and a costly distraction from where North Dakota needs to be going for its energy future. Industry and state lawmakers say the technology could play a key role in the future of Coal Creek Station.

“It looks like there is someone that is very interested in taking over that plant and running it and a part of that will be the sequestering of the C02,” explained Republican State Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner.

Keeping Coal Creek Station running is a huge priority for North Dakota GOP Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner. Senate Republicans such as Wardner are aiming to devote $50 million dollars to research and development toward technology in the state budget. Wardner says not only does the technology keep the energy flowing, but it also meets the growing demand to tackle climate change.

“We are going to produce carbon free electricity. That’s what the people want,” said Wardner.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants — and storing it permanently underground so that it is not emitted into the atmosphere.

Senator John Hoeven played a pivotal role in establishing the 45Q tax credit which generates tax revenue to pay back the upfront cost of retrofitting Coal Creek Station with the new technology.

North Dakota Transmission Authority Director John Weeda worked 41 years with Great River Energy. He’s an engineer and became Coal Creek Station manager in 1989. Weeda explains how the tax credit helps Coal Creek Station.

“The future level of operation of Coal Creek is probably gonna be somewhat less than it currently is, so let’s us say the future generation is going to use 10 million tons per year instead of the past 12 million tons a year, and if you apply the 45 dollars per ton of credit, that would be $450 million dollars a year of credit towards the C02 sequestration. The credit could be worth in the $5 to 5.4 billion dollar range over the entire life of the credit.

Those $ 5 – 5.4 billion dollars will help new owners pay for the cost of retrofitting Coal Creek Station as well as running the new technology. It would also provide hundreds of millions of additional revenue stream.

“From a national security point of view, our entire Midwest can be secured because our plants start out on top of their fuel supply, and the fuel supply is readily accessible without danger to minors or major disruptions in the environment. So the next trick has been, ok carbon is an issue across the world,” explained McLean County State’s Attorney and lignite advocate Ladd Erickson.

Erickson is a local leader in efforts to save Coal Creek Station. He says carbon capture and sequestration is a win-win technology for North Dakota’s energy future.

“What’s nice about the technologies is they are so much more cost effective than other alternative. Right now renewables are a part of our grid, but renewable have maxed the transmission capacity, so the country is looking at spending trillions and trillions of dollars for the transmission of renewables. But, for an upfront cost a fraction of that we can maintain baseload reliable power and still be carbon neutral just like the renewables are,” said Erickson.

Ryan Warner is the co-founder of Bismarck based solar company Lightspring, LLC. He says carbon capture and sequestration is just an attempt by the lignite industry to keep an outdated energy system in place.

“What the companies that are trying to pursue carbon capture are doing is they can’t get financing to do their own research and development, so they’re looking for a handout from the government to try and do that,” explained Warner. “They say if I can get one handout, it will get me a second handout, and if I can get a second handout, then I can make my business profitable. As of right now, the market has spoken and they’re saying that’s not a viable business model.”

When it comes to adding renewables to the energy grid, cost is always at the center of the conversation. North Dakota Transmission Authority Director John Weeda says it costs about a million dollars per mile to construct new transmission infrastructure in North Dakota. Renewable energy advocates say there’s a new way to think about energy transmission.

“You hear a lot of sales pitches out there like we’re gonna be 100% renewable by 2035, or 100% renewable by this date, that’s the public relations part of energy. It’s not based on physics. The physics would have if you can get 30% renewable energy into the grids, you’re pretty much capping the laws of physics without having to add trillions of trillions of dollars of infrastructure costs,” said Erickson.

“They’re still thinking in the 20th Century mindset which is we’ll have a centralized power plant, we’ll distribute this energy hundred of miles to the places where people are consuming this energy and that’s our model. So it fits not only their technical limitations but also fits their monopoly business model. So what he’s assuming is ok well if renewables come it’s going to be a giant power plant. It’s going to be a giant solar farm, it’s going to be a giant array of windmills, and we’re gonna have to build these transmission lines to get it to the people to actually consume electricity,” explained Warner.