Should ND Bolster Funding for Coal?

Mike Moen

BISMARCK - The debate over North Dakota's coal industry is getting heavy focus in the Legislature. Republican lawmakers hope to pass several bills to prop up the struggling coal sector, while environmental groups question the proposals.

One bill would give a five-year tax break to the state's coal facilities. and there are calls for more investment in carbon-capture technology to help prolong the life of coal-burning plants, which coincide with plans for the controversial Project Tundra. However, Sonja Kaye, a member of the Dakota Resource Council, said that approach is unproven and could end up hurting ratepayers for electric cooperatives. She said the state's mindset about coal needs to change.

"If we're looking long-term into the future," she said, "I don't think there's anything about coal that we absolutely have to have that couldn't be provided by other sources."

The debate over North Dakota's coal industry is getting heavy focus in the Legislature. Republican lawmakers hope to pass several bills to prop up the struggling coal sector, while environmental groups question the proposals.

Other opponents say the state should do more to encourage renewable-energy sources such as wind. As for coal, Kaye said she feels legislative support should be aimed at a smooth transition, with aid for communities as coal plants face closure. Sen. Jessica Bell, R-Beulah, insisted the proposals do have a long-term approach that could make North Dakota a leader in reviving the coal industry.

But Kaye, who also is running for a seat on the Cass County Electric Cooperative Board, said broader projections show long-term problems for the coal industry that the state needs to acknowledge.

"The levelized costs of wind and solar are cheaper than the levelized cosst of coal," she said, "so we're not gonna be investing in new coal projects. So, we know it's going away, it's not going to be a good investment."

After years of decline, the International Energy Agency has predicted a rebound for coal demand this year, but said it will be short-lived, flattening out again in 2025. Around the same time, energy experts predict renewables will surpass coal as the world's largest electricity supply.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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