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Keeping the lights on

Sen. Curt Kreun, Grand Forks

It’s no secret energy production is crucial to North Dakota’s economy. As the state looks into the future, it is essential to understand how the energy landscape is changing. There is significant pressure from the new Presidential administration and states around the nation to only purchase carbon-free electrons. The North Dakota Legislature, partnering with the Governor’s office and our D.C. delegation, has taken a deep look into these new pressures on the energy industry and grid reliability.

The current state of North Dakota’s energy production is broad and diverse: Coal-fired power plants account for 63% of North Dakota’s electricity generation, and 5 of the state’s 10 largest power plants are coal-fired. The rest of the state’s electricity generation comes primarily from wind energy, which supplied about 27% of generation, and from hydroelectric power that provided 7%. A small amount of generation, almost 3%, was fueled by natural gas. At the end of 2019, the state nearly 1,900 turbines. It is evident by the current energy marketplace, North Dakota believes in an “all the above” energy solution.

This winter was a stark reminder of how precarious energy production and transmission can be. Rolling brown and blackouts around the nation intensified ongoing conversations about grid reliability. Our state and nation must navigate the difficulties of balancing traditional power generation (coal, natural gas) with newer, less consistent power generation (wind, solar). Leaders of the state want to be proactive in assisting our states energy producers in keeping up with the changing landscape.

The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), on the campus of UND, is a great resource our state provides to all of our energy industry partners. The EERC studies and develops new and emerging technologies to foster growth in all areas of energy. They have been a crucial partner in developing enhanced oil recovery, carbon capture, more efficient uses of coal, and other technological advancements.

The state has greatly assisted our coal industry this Legislative session, including low-interest loans, coal insurance studies, and coal conversion tax breaks. The Legislature has done its best to stem the pressure from outside forces on the coal industry. It is exciting that there has been an announcement about Coal Creek station. This signals coal will be an integral and important part of our energy plan for the future.

People are not worried about how energy is produced; they care that their lights always turn on. Our job is to make sure those demands are met, and people have the reliability they count on. Energy and transmission are immensely complex, and there are no perfect answers to any specific problem. However, as we enter this new age of energy, we are working to ensure North Dakota has low-cost, reliable energy.

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