The Case for Coal: Underwood residents discuss economic pain should Coal Creek Station shutter


In our final segment of "The Case For Coal," Josh Meny spoke with residents of Underwood about what the plant's closure would mean for their community.

Coal Creek Station is set to suspend operations in 2022, barring a change in ownership.
Hundreds would lose their jobs and the economic impact would be far-reaching.

In our final segment of “The Case For Coal,” Josh Meny spoke with residents of Underwood about what the plant’s closure would mean for their community.

There is a lot of contention surrounding carbon capture and sequestration and what it means for the future of lignite coal. At the center of the debate is Coal Creek Station which is the lifeblood of small rural communities. Underwood would be one of the communities most impacted by the closure of Coal Creek Station.

“Underwood, Washburn, Turtle Lake, Riverdale, Garison, Bismarck, Minot. Those are the cities that are gonna see the major impact,” explained Underwood Area Economic Board Director Pattie Werre.

Werre says the scheduled closure of Coal Creek Station would be devastating for the periphery-businesses that supply Coal Creek Station and Falkirk Mine.

“Exodus I think from the city. People finding jobs elsewhere if they can knowing they are not going to be making the money they are making now but they still have to support their families,” explained Werre.

Roxie Kapanke has been working at Falkirk Mine for more than 25 years and her husband Dave Kapanke put in 40 years at Coal Creek Station.

“If we would lose the power plant and the mine, right now you’re talking about 700 jobs,” said Roxie Kapanke.

With the jobs gone, Kapanke says the impact on the region’s economy would be immeasurable

“They’re the ones that spend the money. They buy the boats, they buy the cars, they go out to eat, they support their local communities and all the different organizations. You take that away it’s like you’re cutting your legs off,” said Roxie Kapanke. She added that it’s not just the businesses that would fall. “Both of the mine and the powerplant have rescue squads that are EMTs. They are the volunteers at the fire departments and ambulances at these local communities.”

Ryan Warner of Lightspring LLC, a Bismarck based solar company, acknowledges the disruption that the closure of Coal Creek Station would cause. Warner proposes a new way for policymakers to make local economies stronger.

“It’s a very tough time for those people and I totally have empathy for them because it’s hard to have your life disrupted by something that’s out of your control and something you didn’t cause. / The subsidies you’re giving to your boss’s boss’s boss to go and create a technology that’s unproven, that if it works will save your job way down at the bottom,” explained Warner.

Instead of subsidizing coal with billions for the new technology, Warner says give those subsidies directly to the people, as well as embracing the new grid that, as we explained in our last segment, is gaining traction in other parts of the world.

“The global economy in North Dakota is really a kind of extraction outpost, and what our opportunity is with this transfer of technology is for us in North Dakota to locally own and opperate our own energy generation. And doing that keeps the money in our own local economy.”

Warner says it requires political foresight by North Dakota to generate energy at home and keep money at home.

In the immediate future, Former Coal Creek Station Plant Manager John Weeda says a deal on Coal Creek Station must be made by the end of Spring.

“It’s gonna be a challenge making a deal if you keep it operating. So, if it shut down first and they had to go over the expense of restarting, there might not be a deal under those circumstances. Realistically, Great River Energy has to take a step toward shut down June time frame or so this year, 2021, so yeah it’s important that if there is gonna be a deal, it gets done this Spring”

KX News will continue providing you the latest developments on the future of Coal Creek Station.

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