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Freedom Mine, lignite coal, Beulah
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator John Padalino looks over the Freedom Mine near Beulah, ND on May 15, 2013. Padalino toured North Dakota’s energy facilities provided through Basin Electric Cooperative visiting a wind farm, gasification plant and coal mine. Photo: ND Dept. of Agriculture via Flickr.

Can North Dakota coal survive in a clean power era?

In the last few years, it’s oil and gas that people think of when North Dakota’s energy industry is mentioned. But they often forget about #coal, a staple in the state’s energy economy, and still providing a healthy backbone for communities near North Dakota lignite mines. This week, Inside Energy wrote an article detailing why North Dakota lignite is still an influential player, especially in a time when coal is under attack across the nation.

One reason coal is still strong across the state is that electricity from natural gas is used less for electricity in North Dakota than in other areas, where coal-fired power plants are giving way to cleaner burning natural gas plants.

However, there are threats to the lignite industry, Inside Energy tells us. An increase in wind energy, for example, in addition to pressure from the Clean Power Plan and its initiative to cut carbon emissions across the nation. A $250 million wind farm near Rolla was dedicated in July as part of Xcel Energy’s plan to deliver 35 percent renewable energy to its Midwest customers by 2035. Another $250 million wind farm and electric transmission facility were approved by the North Dakota Public Service Commission in July. Brady Wind LLC plans 72 turbines that will produce 100 megawatts of power in Hettinger County, with associated facilities located in Stark County.

For now, though, coal remains a big part of the economy. We’ll see what happens in the next few years to see if the industry can come up with ways to continue to harvest coal and still abide by the increasing regulations.  Inside Energy cites a plan to build a zero-emission power plant “that would convert lignite to natural gas, and capture carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. But this plant still needs years of research and testing before it’s ready to roll out in North Dakota.” If they can make that happen, coal might still have a long term future.

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