Wednesday, June 30, 2021 - 03:17 pm

Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford today applauded the sale of Coal Creek Station to Rainbow Energy Center LLC as a landmark moment for the future of energy production in North Dakota and the culmination of more than a year of determined efforts by the administration and others to save the state’s largest power plant, preserving critical baseload power and hundreds of jobs.

Great River Energy (GRE) announced in May 2020 its plans to retire Coal Creek Station, a 1,151-megwatt generating plant in Underwood, during the second half of 2022. At the time, the Governor’s Office had already been actively engaged in conversations with GRE to transfer or sell Coal Creek Station to third party operators. Burgum announced on March 25, 2021, that GRE was in exclusive negotiations to sell Coal Creek Station and GRE’s high-voltage, direct current transmission system that extends between central North Dakota and Minnesota.

Today, Rainbow Energy Center announced it has reached an agreement to purchase Coal Creek Station from GRE, while Nexus Line LLC is buying the transmission system. Rainbow Energy Center and Nexus Line are both affiliates of Bismarck-based Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp. The sale is expected to close later this year, after required approvals are obtained, Rainbow said.

“This is a great day for North Dakota, a big win for U.S. energy security and reliability, and a huge sigh of relief for the residents of McLean County, Underwood and surrounding communities in coal country who depend on the jobs and economic activity generated by Coal Creek and the nearby Falkirk Mine,” Burgum said. “It’s also great news for the regional power grid and consumers who depend on the reliable, affordable electricity that coal provides.”

“When GRE announced its plans to close the plant in 2022, Lt. Gov. Sanford and I pledged to find a path forward for Coal Creek that preserves high-paying jobs and keeps North Dakota’s most efficient and updated coal-fired plant on the grid to ensure baseload power capacity for our state and the region,” Burgum added. “Today that goal was realized, and we couldn’t be happier for the approximately 260 employees of Coal Creek Station and the 400-plus workers at North American Coal’s Falkirk Mine, which supplies lignite coal to the power plant. We thank Rainbow Energy Center for investing and believing in the future of Coal Creek, which is primed for innovation and synergies with oil, ethanol and carbon capture that will keep it viable and successful in a carbon-constrained future. I’m also deeply grateful to Lt. Gov. Sanford, GRE, the North Dakota Legislature, our state’s congressional delegation and everyone involved in creating a viable path forward for Coal Creek Station and our lignite industry.”

“It seems fitting that as the dark cloud of uncertainty over Coal Creek is lifted today, a Rainbow has appeared to take its place,” Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford said. “This sale is the tremendously positive outcome of months of negotiations and tireless efforts to find a solution that benefits consumers, coal country workers and the entire state of North Dakota. We’ve worked hard to create a tax and regulatory environment that makes our state an attractive place for responsible energy development, and we’re excited for that to continue thanks to this investment by Rainbow Energy Center and GRE’s willingness to work toward a collaborative solution.”

GRE, a not-for-profit wholesale electric power cooperative providing power in Minnesota and Wisconsin, plans to add 900 megawatts of wind energy before the end of 2023 and modify the 99-megawatt coal and natural gas-based Spiritwood Station power plant in Spiritwood, N.D., to be fueled primarily by natural gas, according to an announcement from Rainbow Energy Center.

Burgum signed several bills during this year’s legislative session that will support the lignite industry as it continues to innovate for the future and supply reliable, low-cost electricity for residents and businesses in North Dakota and beyond. Those bills included:  

  • House Bill 1412, which exempts coal plants from the state’s coal conversion facility tax for the next five years. The bill is expected to save the industry over $20 million per year, freeing up funds to invest in innovative projects such as carbon capture and sequestration that will curb emissions and improve the industry’s long-term viability.
  • Senate Bill 2152, which provides a sales tax exemption for carbon dioxide used for secure geologic storage.
  • SB 2206, which allows utilities to recover costs for carbon capture.

Burgum and Sanford have promoted an all-of-the-above energy approach based on “innovation, not regulation” to advance energy development with environmental stewardship. Under the Burgum-Sanford administration, in 2018 North Dakota became the first state in the nation to receive approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate geologic storage of carbon dioxide, which presents a huge economic opportunity for both the lignite industry and the oil industry through enhanced oil recovery.