Sustainable Energy

North Dakota's largest power plant looks set to close as the owner bets on wind energy

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Key Points
  • Great River Energy plans to shut down the two units of Coal Creek Station in the second half of 2022.
  • Not-for-profit cooperative adds it is also "willing to consider opportunities to sell the plant."
Steam is vented through exhaust stacks at Great River Energy's Coal Creek Station in North Dakota. Some of the largest banks in the U.S. have cut back on lending to the coal sector in recent years, but they need to do much more to lower the climate risk in their loan portfolios, a new report argues.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A 1,151-megawatt (MW) coal power station in North Dakota is set to be retired after it was deemed to have "lost value compared to other alternatives in recent years."

Announcing the decision at the end of last week, electric power supplier Great River Energy said it planned to shut down the two units of Coal Creek Station in the second half of 2022, adding that it was also "willing to consider opportunities to sell the plant."

Located roughly 50 miles north of Bismarck, the Coal Creek Station facility has a workforce of 260 and uses approximately 22,000 tons of lignite each day. According to Great River Energy, it is the largest power plant in North Dakota.

"Coal Creek Station is operated efficiently, safely and with pride by a dedicated and talented staff," David Saggau, Great River Energy's CEO and president, said in a statement. "We will make every effort to minimize impacts on our employees and the communities through this transition."

Looking ahead, Great River Energy, which operates as a not-for-profit cooperative, is aiming to purchase over 1,100 MW from new wind energy projects by late 2023, an investment of more than $1.2 billion. Among other things, it is also planning to modify a coal and natural gas-based power plant so that it's fueled solely by natural gas. 

While other parts of the world, such as Britain, have seen their "reliance on coal for electricity" reach very low levels in recent years — it's fallen from 70% in 1990 to under 3% today, according to the government — the U.S. is a different story.

Preliminary figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that in 2019 coal's share of utility-scale electricity generation was 23.5%, second only to natural gas. The EIA states that North Dakota is responsible for 4% of total coal production in the U.S. and home to "the world's largest known deposit of lignite."

Nevertheless, the proposed shuttering of the Coal Creek Station could mirror a number of recent closures in Europe. In April, Austria's last operational coal-fired power station shut down, while in the U.K. two coal-fired facilities operated by SSE and RWE shut down on the same day at the end of March.

Renewable hydrogen study

In other energy news, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced 1.7 million Australian dollars ($1.1 million) of funding for BP Australia that will enable the firm to "assess the feasibility of building a renewable hydrogen and ammonia production facility" in Western Australia.

GHD Advisory will support BP Australia on the study, which will amount to 4.42 million Australian dollars in total. It will look into the production of renewable hydrogen using electrolysis, according to ARENA.

The funding, announced Friday, came in the same week that Western Australia's Environmental Protection Authority recommended a vast renewable energy project for environmental approval.

Set to cover 6,500 square kilometers of land, it's envisaged that the Asian Renewable Energy Hub project will produce as much as 15 gigawatts of wind and solar power, with as many as 1,743 wind turbines being used.