Great River Energy to end North Dakota coal plant operations

Great River wind turbine
Maple Grove-based Great River Energy says it will shut down a large coal-fired power plant in North Dakota and replace it with wind energy.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2009

Maple Grove-based Great River Energy says it will shut down a large coal-fired power plant in North Dakota and replace it with wind energy.

The Coal Creek plant in central North Dakota produces half of the electricity Great River sells to 28 electric cooperatives in Minnesota and Wisconsin, said Vice President Jon Brekke. 

"We're moving in an opportunistic direction towards an evolved power supply portfolio for the economic benefit of our member cooperatives. This is a reflection of significant shifts in the wholesale market," he said. 

Those shifts include cheaper electricity produced by wind, and sustained low natural gas prices. 

The electricity produced by the Coal Creek plant will be largely replaced by expanded wind generation in Minnesota and South Dakota. 

Great River will also invest more in gas-fired peaking plants. Those are electric generation plants that can quickly come on line when additional electricity is needed. 

A coal and natural gas power plant in Spiritwood, N. D. will be modified to run only on natural gas. 

Great River President and Chief Executive Officer David Saggau said the changes continue a company shift from coal to renewable energy

"Great River Energy's power supply will be more than ninety five percent carbon dioxide free, our wholesale electric rate will also be significantly lower. We are building a power supply portfolio that will serve our member owner co-operatives for decades," he said. 

The cooperative closed a coal-based power plant in Stanton, N.D. in 2017, and closed the waste-to-energy Elk River Resource Recovery Project in 2019.

Great River is also installing a long duration battery demonstration project in Cambridge, Minn., which officials hope will prove a new storage technology is feasible for storing electricity much longer than present battery technology allows. 

The cooperative expects decommissioning of the Coal Creek power plant to begin in the second half of 2022 and take about three years to complete.

The power plant currently employees 260 people. Great River officials said they would continue to pay local property taxes on the plant for five years after it closes, a total of about $15 million, to help ease the economic blow to local communities. 

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