Great River Energy to retire North Dakota coal plant

Great River Energy announced Friday it will retire a small coal-fired power plant near Bismarck, N.D., by May 2017, because it's become too expensive to run.

The Stanton Station is one of several power plants that generates electricity for Great River Energy's 1.7 million Minnesota consumers. The 189-megawatt plant had not been slated for retirement, according to Great River Energy's latest resource plan with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. However, utility officials said low prices in the regional energy market drove the decision.

"After careful consideration of several alternatives, it became clear that retiring the plant was in the best interest of our member cooperatives," David Saggau, Great River Energy's president and CEO, said in a news release.

Officials said Stanton has not been running at full capacity lately because of the economic conditions that made it cheaper to get electricity from the utility's other plants or purchase it from elsewhere.

Environmental groups hailed the planned retirement. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign says it would be the 237th coal plant to be retired since 2010. The group has targeted coal plants because of their contribution to carbon emissions linked to climate change.

In the past, Fresh Energy and other groups that promote renewable energy had pushed Minnesota regulators to require Great River Energy to study retirement of Stanton, but Friday's decision came out of the blue, said J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director for Fresh Energy.

"Retiring this uneconomic coal unit will save money for GRE's customers in North Dakota and Minnesota, and help cut carbon pollution in North Dakota, a win-win-win for the utility, the states, and customers," Hamilton said in a written statement.

She noted that Great River Energy is among a group of utilities that last year were singled out for being carbon intensive. The move would help North Dakota meet carbon goals set by President Obama's administration, though the Clean Power Plan is still tied up in a court battle.

Great River Energy's website lists approximately 65 jobs at the plant, and officials said in the release that they are providing support services to affected employees.

Correction (July 18, 2016): An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed J. Drake Hamilton's affiliation. The story has been updated.