U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, during a visit to the Energy & Environment Research Center at UND, said she believes North Dakota is poised to play a key role in addressing climate change.

Granholm visited Grand Forks on Thursday, Oct. 14, to tour the EERC with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Gov. Doug Burgum. Following that tour, they held a discussion with energy company executives from across the state.


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That discussion focused on the generation of clean power, but also on advancing to commercialization carbon capture utilization and storage technology (CCUS) -- essentially stripping carbon from coal or other energy sources, and burying it underground. Energy executives said doing so will require expanded federal financial assistance.

Granholm said she doesn't view combating climate change with a silver bullet, but rather “silver buckshot.” In North Dakota, that buckshot pattern hits several targets, including further rolling out wind and solar power, but also working to decarbonize fossil fuels.

“We have to create clean, baseload, dispatchable power,” Granholm said. “You can't flip a switch, although we have a huge sense of urgency, but there are solutions you can deploy today, and put it on steroids.”

Granholm’s office has announced a series of “earth shots,” technology programs exploring improvements to batteries for long-term power storage, implementing and lowering the price of clean hydrogen within a decade and attaching carbon capture technology to traditional means of power generation, such as with coal-fired plants.

Included in a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package is $25 billion for demonstration projects involving clean hydrogen, carbon capture and others, Granholm said. Both Hoeven and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have voted to support that funding package. Granholm called Hoeven’s leadership “invaluable” in advancing those policy goals.

Burgum said North Dakota “hit the jackpot of geology” because the state can store 252 billion tons of carbon underground in a carbon “sink.” That amount, he said, equates to 50 years of national carbon production from energy generation, or 4,400 years in what North Dakota generates on its own.

Granholm agreed, saying: “You've got a comparative advantage, clearly in carbon capture and storage because of your geography,” and called the storage capacity a “gift to the planet."

In May, Burgum announced an ambitious plan to make North Dakota carbon neutral by 2030. Burgum said since that announcement, investment from outside the state has poured in, to the tune of $25 billion for projects like carbon capture programs.

At a question and answer session after the discussion, Burgum said he believed North Dakota can reach his carbon neutrality goal by the projected date. The state, he said, can provide developers with a stable tax and regulatory environment. North Dakota is one of only two states that has received U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authorization to permanently store carbon dioxide underground.

“It's very easy to see with both our reduction of CO2 and the ability to have an intake of CO2 from other places, that we can get to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2030 without mandates and without regulation,” Burgum said.

Hoeven said researchers and companies have “cracked the code” on oil production in the western-lying Bakken formation through hydraulic fracturing. The task now is to crack the code on carbon capture. The technology to do so exists, but some have said making it profitable on a large scale poses challenges.

Hoeven is calling for more investment in programs like Project Tundra, a carbon dioxide capturing program at a coal-fired power plant in the western part of the state. The EERC has partnered with the DOE in developing the carbon storage technology, and the program has received $43 million in federal funding.

Hoeven is also calling for loan guarantees for developers to build the infrastructure to store carbon dioxide, as well as enhancements to existing coal tax credits. The tax credits are meant to provide developers with revenue streams that incentivise adopting CCUS technology.

According to a news release from his office, Hoeven is sponsoring legislation to enhance those credits, referred to as 45Q and 48A Coal tax credits.

“What we need is commercial viability, and that's why we're working so hard at the federal level and we need (Secretary Granholm’s) help with funding to put the carbon capture technology in place,” said Hoeven.

Energy executives at the discussion said much the same. Kathy Neset, who runs an engineering and geology business in Tioga, N.D., said implementing carbon capture technology requires government revenue and the innovation of developers, not regulation. Neset’s company has partnered with the EERC on a number of projects and is now drilling test wells to store carbon dioxide underground.

It was innovation that allowed the United States to become the largest producer of oil in the world, Neset said. The challenge now becomes taking all that oil and making it “carbon friendly.” Should all the pieces fall into place, Neset said she could see the state move beyond Burgum’s vision of carbon neutrality to being carbon negative, to which Granholm interjected:

“Preach it!”