BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The company that operates the largest coal-fired power plant in North Dakota announced Thursday it will close the factory and replace most of its energy with new wind farms in Minnesota.
Maple Grove, Minnesota-based Great River Energy said it's Coal Creek Station near Underwood in west-central North Dakota will be shuttered in the second half of 2022. The plant that has operated for more than 40 years employs 260 workers.
Great River supplies electricity to 28 rural Minnesota cooperatives, serving about 1.7 million people. The 1,150-megawatt plant will be replaced by a similar amount of wind energy by the end of 2023, after a $1.2 billion investment, the company said.
Great River CEO David Saggau said the decision approved by the company's board Thursday morning was driven by economics. Company officials said the "portfolio changes" will mean its power will be 95% free of carbon dioxide blames for global warming.
The company also announced it would convert its Spiritwood Station plant near Jamestown from lignite coal to natural gas.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called the closure of the Coal Creek Station disappointing but said his administration is determined to "find a path forward for it" and keep it "on the grid."
North Dakota has seven coal-fueled electric power plants and a factory that produces synthetic natural gas from lignite coal. The state's lignite mines in west-central North Dakota produce close to 30 million tons of fuel annually. North Dakota's vast lignite reserves are second only to Australia's.
North American Coal's Falkirk Mine supplies lignite to coal creek station and employs about 500 workers, whose jobs also are in jeopardy, Lignite Energy Council President Jason Bohrer said.
"I don't know of a single event in North Dakota of this magnitude, where more than 700 jobs in the state will be gone," he said. "This is what competition looks like when we're continually undercut by subsidies, incentives and regulatory policies that are making a focused attack on coal."
Great River said the power plant would be razed after it is shutdown, a process that would take about three years.
Bohrer predicted there could be a willing buyer before then.
"This is one of the newest, most environmentally compliant base-load power plants in the country," he said. "My sense this is the beginning of the process. With our state and federal partners, we will hunker down together to come up with a better outcome."
Great River said it has had discussions with potential buyers but found no takers, even at a giveaway price.
The company said it would pay local tax payments for five years, at $3 million a year. It did not disclose any severance packages for its employees.
Great River Energy in closed its Stanton Station coal-fired power plant in Mercer County in 2017, saying the half-century-old factory was no longer economical. The plant was demolished a year later.
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