Natural gas vs. coal

Charles Bullinger, Bismarck

More than 40 years of reliable electric generation will end at Coal Creek Station in the middle 2022. I spent over 40 years there as an engineer – construction, start-up and solving challenges.

While the plant was built in the late 1970s, it doesn’t look it. Many improvements have been made through the years. It is a bit like grandfather’s axe – the head and the handle have been replaced but it is still the same trustworthy tool.

New technologies replace old and there is a natural end to all things; however this closure appears to be artificially forced and undertaken in almost obscene haste. The plans for replacement generation seem vague and from what I can see rely on less installed power with lower availability. Dare I suggest that the decision appears more political than economic?

I feel for the younger employees there and at the adjacent Falkirk mine. We hired conscientious, hardworking people and we always enjoyed a good problem to solve. They joined the team thinking they would have the same 40-plus year career I had.

Renewable energy is the rage. But the race between a coal plant and wind turbines is like a horse race where one horse gets to carry less weight and starts at the first turn because of tax breaks and subsidies.

Natural gas is presently plentiful, but I wonder about 2025 and beyond. As more natural gas is used to generate electricity, what will happen to reserves and pipeline capacity needed to heat our homes? Think the price will stay the same? During the last Polar Vortex, the price of natural gas tripled.

I had a great career. I loved what I did. I felt like I was working for my uncles and aunts….family living on Minnesota farms and small towns. I feel for the younger generation and their kids. It must feel like divorce. An unexpected and sudden rejection. I hope North Dakota and Minnesota can help them move on if the plant can’t be run by someone else.


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