MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's largest coal-fired power plant, Coal Creek Station, got a reprieve this year. The plan had been to close the plant, and replace it with wind turbines, but Great River Energy, the current owner, agreed to sell it to another company that will continue to operate it making use of carbon capture technology.

Now another Minnesota-based utility, Otter Tail Power, has announced they're looking to sell their 35% stake in Coyote Station, a 420-megawatt power plant near Beulah, N.D., that is fed by the nearby Coyote Creek Mine.

The plan is for this to happen in 2028, so it's a ways out, but still not great news for central North Dakota.

The other owners are Montana-Dakota Utilities (30%), Northwestern Power (25%), and Northern Municipal Power Agency (10%).

"Because economic modeling and analysis indicate Coyote Station is no longer economic for Otter Tail Power Company customers in each of the three states we serve, we are seeking authorization to commence the process of withdrawal from our ownership interest," the company said in a press release. "It is important to understand this is not a decision to retire Coyote Station, which of course is a co-owned facility, and such a decision is not ours alone to make."

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Otter Tail says they'll replace Coyote Station's power with a 150mw solar farm (location to be determined) and adding dual-fuel capacity at Astoria Station in South Dakota.

That adds up to less power from cheap, stable coal, and more power from intermittent solar and economically volatile natural gas at a time when our power grids are already something less than resilient.

Don't take my word for it. According to John Weeda, director of North Dakota's Transmission Authority, the folks at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (or MISO, the power grid Coyote Station serves) are worried about reliability. So much so they breathed a "sigh of relief," to quote Weeda, when a deal came through to keep Coal Creek Station open.

Otter Tail is citing economic reasons moving on from Coyote Station, and that's the talking point the anti-coal ideologues will seize on, but we need to remember that what's creating that economic reality is not the natural shifts of supply and demand but government policies that are subsidizing some types of energy while driving up prices for others.

Otter tail even acknowledges this in their press release: "As you know, Coyote Station may need significant capital investments to maintain compliance with the Regional Haze Rule, which would exacerbate the economic challenges for the facility."

Utility executives and their public relations department have their spin, but what's happening here is not market forces.

It's not economics.

It's politics. So much so that the timeline probably reaches to 2028 to see whether or not President Joe Biden gets another term.


If Coyote Station closes, the consequences will be felt far beyond coal country, where the risk is lost jobs and shattered communities. What the rest of us face more expensive, less reliable energy because the wizards of smart, who think they can dictate reality with regulations and subsidies, want it that way.

Though, before we become too morose, let's remember that Coyote Station isn't closing, and that while utilities like Otter Tail are playing politics, reality is still reality.

Americans still need cheap, reliable energy, and the alternatives like wind, solar, and natural gas can't really provide it.

Great River Energy started with a plan to close down a coal plant and replace it with wind power. Today, that coal plant will continue to operate, and Great River Energy will continue to buy energy from it.

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.