Don’t write off coal

Bob Paulson

State Representative

District 3

Brad Magnuson, chairman of the Dem-NPL Renewable Energy Caucus, (June 10, MDN Letters to Editor), tells us that coal is no longer a viable source of energy. We would be wise to consider the reality of what other countries have already discovered relative to that perspective.

Countries such as Germany and Australia have aggressively pursued wind energy with results that some call disastrous. The cost/benefit analysis isn’t playing out well for them as they have skyrocketing rates and reliability issues. Meanwhile, countries like China, Japan, Turkey, the EU and many others (over 60 countries total) are planning or currently building new coal plants.

North Dakota’s residential customers have some of the lowest electric rates in the country, in part because of the continued use of low-cost lignite resources.

When it comes to wind energy, it can be said that the consumer pays three times for wind power – subsidies, wind generation and a backup source of power.

During this past winter’s polar vortex, it was not wind energy providing the “juice” when it was needed most. Coal was not a backup source for our energy needs during that event, it was the primary source.

In his letter, Mr. Magnuson says that “the statement ‘the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine,’ shows a complete lack of understanding of renewable energy”, but he doesn’t explain how these facts no longer apply. It is true that energy storage technology has improved, but it comes at a cost. The fact is that generating electricity with weather-dependent technology requires a consistent backup, and cost, efficiency and reliability of the grid are issues that have to be addressed.

With initiatives like Project Tundra which seeks to capture carbon dioxide emissions from a lignite-fired power plants and move them to conventional oil fields to enhance oil recovery, coal-fired electrons can in fact be “clean energy” and are moving towards carbon free. In the end, it’s about affordable, dependable energy that enhances national energy security.

I’m a fan of an “all of the above” energy policy. However, I’m also a fan of truth and reasoned, fact-based decision making. Coal production is our state’s fifth largest economic industry, it keeps our electricity costs down and I would anticipate it will be “viable” as a primary source of energy for the foreseeable future.