Public Service Commission candidate Brad Crabtree said Thursday that an investment by state government in coal technology could make North Dakota a world leader in production of low-carbon energy from lignite.
The Democratic-NPL-backed candidate held news conferences in Minot and Bismarck to announce his policy initiatives, including matching federal dollars with $100 million in state dollars for a carbon capture demonstration project at Basin Electric's Antelope Valley Station. He also recommends investing with industry in a new lignite gasification plant with capture of carbon that can be used to enhance oil recovery in the state.
"Let's be clear, choosing between protecting our lignite industry or sound environmental stewardship is a false choice," he said. "New technology allows us to do both. Commercial gasification technology is available today for new coal plants to produce energy from lignite with very low emissions of carbon dioxide, mercury and other environmental pollutants. The technology for retrofitting existing coal-fired lignite power plants with carbon capture and storage will be available commercially before the next decade. However, we cannot wait 10 years to take action. North Dakota must begin making significant investments in low-carbon lignite coal technology today to preserve our lignite industrial and jobs base and avoid having one of North Dakota's great industries go the way of Detroit."
Crabtree said he, along with most Americans and members of Congress, subscribes to the idea that climate change is real. Companies are finding the need to compete in an international market where climate change is considered real. North Dakota's energy- and agriculture-based economy is at risk in this environment so it's logical that the state become proactive, he said.
"China, Australia and other countries are forging ahead with commercial deployment of the next generation of lignite coal technologies. North Dakota has the potential to join these countries as a world leader," Crabtree said.
Key parts of his initiative are:
The state Industrial Commission should make funding available to assess the feasibility of repowering older lignite power plants to produce low-carbon electricity, synthetic gasoline and diesel fuels. If feasible, North Dakota should join industry and the federal government as an investor.
The state Department of Mineral Resources should work with legislators to pass legislation authorizing the department to develop rules for permitting commercial underground coal gasification projects.
The state should support an underground coal gasification development program and establish a training program at Bismarck State College to prepare a future work force.
Crabtree is running against incumbent commissioner Kevin Cramer, a Republican, who called Crabtree's initiatives nothing new. Cramer, who serves on the Lignite Research Council, said the council has financially supported the kind of low-carbon technologies that Crabtree is advocating.
However, Cramer said, $100 million investments in demonstration projects are the responsibility of the federal government, not state taxpayers. North Dakota already has invested $2.7 million in the Basin Electric project through engineering studies and partnership with the U.S. Energy Department, he said.
Cramer said the PSC has staff working on proposed legislation related to rule-making for future underground coal gasification, although there are ground-water contamination and other concerns with the technology that must be addressed first.