The directors of the rural power cooperatives in northeast Minnesota should approve this sale as it will provide the Minnesota mining industry with reliable and affordable electricity.
Mining is an energy-intensive industry. The Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron reportedly uses more electricity and natural gas than the entire city of Minneapolis. Electricity needs for mining will only increase if Minnesota's fledgling copper-nickel mining industry becomes an integral part of the state's economy.
Continuing operations at Coal Creek will provide power to the Twin Metals mine, located in the service area of the Lake Country Cooperative. It will also help existing Minnesota iron mines by adding large amounts of electricity to the regional grid.
What many people don't realize is that the electrons that power their refrigerators, lamps, and laptops don't necessarily come from their electricity company's power plants. Instead, the electricity grid is like a community pool, and the shutdown of a North Dakota power plant will reduce the amount of electricity available to everyone, including the Minnesota iron mines.
Keeping 1,150 megawatts of reliable power generation capacity on-line is important as several Minnesota iron mines have been forced to cut production several times this year to save electricity when demand was high but regional power grids were too low. the Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator (MISO).
Unfortunately, such situations could become more common as large coal-fired power plants are shut down and the grid becomes more dependent on unreliable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels, which often fail to provide significant amounts of electricity when they are needed most.
The February polar vortex is a prime example of this unfortunate disappearance. According to the MISO website, coal generated 52% of the electricity on the grid during this freezing cold spell. Natural gas provided 28% and nuclear energy 12%. In contrast, wind and sun generated only 4.2% and 0.3% of the electricity demand.
The sale of Coal Creek would not only help provide reliable power to Minnesota's mines, but also at a low cost. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, Coal Creek Station produced electricity for $ 21 per megawatt hour in 2018, making it one of the most efficient and cheapest power plants in the US
The sale would also benefit the environment as the new owners plan to install facilities to capture carbon dioxide emissions so they can be safely stored underground. This technology is like putting a catalytic converter on a car to catch the pollution and help it run cleaner.
This technology still has a lot to prove, but all new energy innovations need a chance to prove themselves in the market.
Groups opposed to the sale claim carbon capture is too risky, but their alternative plan of relying on an electricity grid powered by wind, solar and battery storage would be much riskier.
A recent Wood Mackenzie analysis estimates that 741,000 megawatt hours of battery storage will be installed worldwide by 2030. That may sound like a lot, but it's only 1% of Minnesota's annual electricity consumption.
In contrast, Coal Creek generated 9.1 million megawatt hours in 2019, 12 times the total estimated storage capacity available worldwide by 2030. Anyone who claims that battery storage is the solution is not serious.
The Northeast Minnesota Co-op Board of Directors should support the sale of Coal Creek Station as it will provide reliable and affordable power to the area's mines and will help North Dakota and Minnesota become global leaders in environmental stewardship establish.
Isaac Orr is a Policy Fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative public policy think tank based in Golden Valley, Minnesota.