A history of clean coal in North Dakota

To understand the future of North Dakota lignite coal, let’s take a brief look at its history —

Lignite is a dark brown to black combustible mineral formed over millions of years by the partial decomposition of plant material subject to increased pressure and temperature in an airless atmosphere. In simple terms, lignite is coal.

A Century of Advancement

The standard of living in the United States over the past 110 years has improved immensely. Think for a minute about living conditions on the North Dakota plains when Theodore Roosevelt was president. Outhouses would dot the towns and the farms. Hospitals would have no penicillin or other antibiotics. Fresh vegetables and fruits were only available locally and in season. Storing meat often meant that it was heavily salted.

Electricity was also considered a luxury. Only people living in towns had electricity, and it was expensive and available mostly for lights at night, and for washing and ironing clothes. Some had automobiles, but most still had horses. Much has changed in the past century.

Not surprisingly, Americans are demanding more electricity than ever before, not only at home but also at work.

Today, it is not uncommon to find households with one or more homes — one for living and one for recreation. Likely, both have central heating and air conditioning for personal welfare and comfort, plus refrigerators and freezers to keep food fresh. Not surprisingly, Americans are demanding more electricity than ever before, not only at home but also at work. Computers and copiers in office buildings and programmable robotics in manufacturing are examples of how America is putting electricity to work and 
making workers more productive.

Meeting Tomorrow’s Demand with Homegrown Energy

Under the Obama Administration, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies proposed a number of rules that could have impacted coal-based electricity prices, both nationally and regionally.

How lignite coal powers your life

These proposals could have increased the cost of mining coal, generating electricity from coal along with managing coal ash, and would have made it more difficult to build new coal-based power plants and keep existing plants operating. This “regulation push” increased the uncertainties facing the lignite industry and chilled future growth potential.

LEC’s Vice President of R & D meets with Mark Kennedy, President of the University of North Dakota

The Lignite Energy Council, an association comprised of lignite mines, major lignite users and companies that provide goods and services to the industry, believes the “regulatory push” would have hurt the lignite industry and our regional economy by introducing unrealistic regulatory time frames along with uncertainty as to how the regulations would affect existing and new facilities.

Currently, we have both a clean environment and an expanding energy supply to power our growing, fast-paced economy.

Currently, we have both a clean environment and an expanding energy supply to power our growing, fast-paced economy. However, through over-regulation, the EPA could have markedly changed the economic situation by 
increasing the price of electricity to the detriment of homeowners and businesses alike.

Researchers at the EERC at the University of North Dakota look for next generation technologies

Since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, the amount of coal consumed for electric generation in the United States increased by 111 percent. When taking into consideration the coal-based electricity sector’s emissions reductions, combined with increased output, there has been a 96 percent reduction in Sulfur Dioxide, 82 percent reduction in Nitrous Oxides, and 92 percent reduction in particulates over the past 40 years.

…North Dakota utilities have invested about $2 billion in technology to protect the environment and operate this equipment at a cost of $100 million per year.

These reductions have been made through the investment in several technologies to reduce emissions, including electrostatic precipitators, 
scrubbers and baghouses, as well as altering the fuel mix.

In North Dakota, home to seven power plants and the nation’s only synfuels plant, utilities have invested about $2 billion in technology to protect 
the environment and operate this equipment at a cost of $100 million per year. This has led to significant reductions in three pollutants targeted by the EPA under the Clean Air Act — particulates, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen 
oxides.

Dakota Gasification

The North Dakota Department of Health notes that the state has “relatively clean air” and is one of only 7 states to comply with all federal ambient air quality standards. The air in North Dakota also meets all state ambient air quality standards. More recently, mercury has also been regulated from coal-based power plants.

North Dakotans want research and development

North Dakotans support increased R & D funding

Our region’s energy future

North Dakota’s Lignite Research, Development and Marketing Program is a multi-million dollar state/industry partnership that concentrates on near term, practical research and development projects that provide the opportunity to preserve and enhance development of our state’s abundant lignite resources.

North Dakota’s Lignite Research, Development and Marketing Program is a multi-million dollar state/industry partnership that concentrates on near term, practical research and development projects

More than 15 years ago, the Lignite Vision 21 Program was created as an endeavor to revitalize growth in the lignite industry. A combined effort between government agencies, elected leadership and the lignite industry, Lignite Vision 21 Program’s main purpose is to promote the latest clean-coal technology for a rapidly growing region fueled by environmentally responsible lignite energy conversion facilities. The Spiritwood Station near Jamestown, ND, was built under the Lignite Vision 21 Program.

Inside a lignite coal mine in North Dakota

The Lignite Research Council, along with public and private partners, have been working to bring next generation clean coal technology to North Dakota. The first of two important projects is known as the Allam Cycle.

The other initiative is known as Project Tundra. Project Tundra will allow current coal-fired power plants to capture carbon dioxide by retrofitting current infrastructure.

As reported by the Dickinson Press,

When oil prices stagnated, NRG ended its work on Project Tundra and ALLETE Inc. and Minnkota Power Cooperative took up where they left off. Now, the goal of Project Tundra is a large scale retrofit of Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station near Center with scrubbers to capture carbon emitted by the plant.
To date, carbon-capture technologies have been deployed commercially on smaller scales, including a 115-megawatt unit of Boundary Dam Power Station near Estevan, Saskatchewan, and on a 240-megawatt project at Petra Nova Parish Holdings LLC’s W.A. Parish power plant near Houston, which NRG is a partner on.

Why is all of this important and what can you do?

The lignite industry employs over 15,000 people in North Dakota and Minnesota while offering abundant, affordable, and reliable homegrown energy.

North Dakota coal provides $100 million a year in direct tax revenue to the state while creating a $3.2 billion economic ripple effect

In North Dakota alone, the industry provides $100 million a year in direct tax revenue while creating a $3.2 billion economic ripple effect. Learn more about the total economic picture at the Lignite Energy Council’s website. These economic factors are crucial for the upper Midwest to remain globally competitive.

Furthermore, to ensure that in the future, the government is a partner with industry, it’s paramount that our elected officials support increased research and development. One way to do that, is to contact your legislator and urge them to support increased funding. Head over to the Coalition for a Secure Energy Future website and submit your comment to your elected officials.

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