Editorial: November 2015
Why coal -- then and now
The Great Plains & EmPower ND Energy Conference held in Bismarck last month focused a great deal of attention on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP has been proposed by the Obama administration and sets a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
In the proposed CPP rules, North Dakota was subjected to an overall 11-percent reduction in CO2 emissions. But when the final rule was drafted, EPA kicked that number up to a 45-percent reduction by 2030.
North Dakota’s electric generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) will be hit hard by the rule if it goes into effect as written. The G&Ts are heavily invested in coal-based generation for good reason: At the time that electric cooperatives knew they had to build more generation to meet increasing demand for power in the 1970s, the nation was operating under the Fuel Use Act. This Act made it illegal to use natural gas for power generation, virtually forcing power companies to use coal as the primary source of fuel.
It was not hard for North Dakota-based G&Ts to follow the law, as North
Dakota is blessed with the two abundant natural resources required to produce affordable electric power: lignite coal (used as fuel) and water (which creates the steam to spin the turbines). From 1963 through 1985, North Dakota’s G&Ts invested some $5 billion to build about 3,500 megawatts of coal-based generation that provides dependable, affordable electric power to millions of people in the Great Plains (roughly 55 percent of the electric power generated in North Dakota is shipped outside our borders). While North Dakota-based G&Ts have recently invested in renewable energy, renewable generation constructed prior to 2013 does not count toward North Dakota’s carbon-reduction goals.
Speakers at the expo made it clear that the state’s response to the CPP will follow two tracks: implementation and litigation. The N.D. Department of Health is charged with figuring out how the proposed plan could be implemented. Before year’s end, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the state will also file suit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to seek a stay in the rule.
As Stenejhem puts it: “We need to be ready and try to comply the best we can while we continue along the litigation path. … If we do nothing, we’ll get a federal plan that will be even worse.”
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere is a global issue that many people believe needs to be addressed. North Dakota’s rural electric cooperatives have been and will continue to do our part. But we fully believe the CPP targets RECs unfairly, and thus, applaud the “implementation and litigation” path the state has put into action.