Great River Energy to exit coal, close 1.15 GW plant, but North Dakota governor vows rescue

Source: By Robert Walton, Utility Dive • Posted: Monday, May 11, 2020

  • Minnesota’s Great River Energy on Thursday announced a plan to significantly reduce its carbon footprint by replacing a North Dakota coal plant with renewable energy projects, market purchases and grid-scale battery technology.
  • The plan calls for retiring the 1,151 MW Coal Creek Station in the second half of 2022, and the addition of 1,100 MW of wind energy purchases by the end of 2023. Republicans in North Dakota vowed to keep the coal plant open.
  • The cooperative generation and transmission provider will also modify the 99 MW lignite coal-fired Spiritwood Station power plant to burn natural gas, install a 1-MW long-duration battery demonstration system, and repower its Blue Flint biorefinery with natural gas.

Dive Insight:

The decision to shutter the Coal Creek Station drew praise from environmental activists, but concern from North Dakota lawmakers who say it is a modern facility vital to the state’s economy.

The cooperative said the changes will significantly reduce member power supply costs, and will allow it to provide a 95% carbon-free energy portfolio.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, R, in a statement, called the decision “disappointing” and said the plant is the state’s “most efficient and updated coal-fired plant.”

The governor said his administration is “more determined than ever to find a path forward for Coal Creek Station that preserves high-paying jobs. … We remain committed to bringing stakeholders to the table to evaluate all options and find opportunity in this uncertainty.”

North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer, R, in a tweet said the state’s leaders “must look at all available options moving forward.”

“North Dakota leans on reliable energy sources like coal — which renewable sources like wind simply cannot compete with — to keep the power on,” said Kramer.

The Minnesota-based Clean Grid Alliance (CGA), however, called Great River’s plan a “bold” step.

“We are thrilled that they are charting a course with clean low-cost renewables like many other utilities across the Midwest and the nation,” CGA Executive Director Beth Soholt said in a statement.

The 1 MW battery system will be supplied by Form Energy, and Soholt singled out that project as “an exciting step forward in advancing [Great River’s] generation shift.”

According to Great River, the battery will be capable of delivering its rated power continuously for 150 hours, “far longer than the four-hour usage period common among lithium-ion batteries.”

“Long-duration storage will help maintain grid reliability in the future during extreme conditions, such as a heat wave or polar vortex,” the cooperative said. The battery system will be located in Cambridge, Minn., expected online in late 2023.

Great River plans to purchase more than 1,100 MW from new wind energy projects, which officials say amounts to a more than $1.2 billion investment in the region’s clean energy resources. The cooperative says its renewable capacity will grow from approximately 660 MW in 2020 to more than 1,760 MW by the end of 2023.

“We are taking advantage of cost-competitive renewables and reliable access to market energy while fostering innovation as the technology of our industry evolves,” Great River President and CEO David Saggau said in a statement.