The nation’s reliance on fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – won’t end anytime soon. Meanwhile, the planet is changing and probably because of the use of those very energy sources. And even those who don’t believe in climate change must acknowledge that attitudes are evolving and that the days of fossil fuels are endangered.
The trouble is, the nation’s infrastructure – transportation, travel, industry – still relies heavily on fossil fuel use.
So how can the nation bridge the gap between its reliance on fossil fuels and the path toward alternative, reliable energy sources that are still so far down the road?
One answer is carbon capture, and a project in the works in North Dakota can help.
It’s called Project Tundra, and if completed it will see an existing coal-burning plant in central North Dakota fitted to capture carbon and store it safely underground. Behind the project are Minnkota Power Cooperative, the Energy and Environmental Research Center at UND, the Lignite Energy Council and the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
It’s a billion-dollar undertaking and could capture up to 90% of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions.
But it’s not without controversy. An Ohio group – the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis – recently released a report that criticized Project Tundra, saying it “faces significant risks and uncertainties that could undermine its economic viability and lead to higher electric rates for the ratepayers of the cooperatives that buy power from Minnkota. ...”
In a meeting with the Herald’s editorial board, project leaders outlined the merits of Project Tundra and also responded to the IEEFA criticisms.
A few takeaways:
● Geologically speaking, the backers say North Dakota is “prime real estate” for a carbon-capture project due to existing underground formations that can be used for carbon storage.
● Renewables – solar and wind, for instance – probably are the future of the nation’s energy grid, but they are still somewhat unreliable. It’s unrealistic to assume that a switch from fossil fuels to greener energy can happen anytime soon. As Minnkota CEO Mac McLennan says, finding ways to move forward with new energy sources and a “carbon-managed future” is important, but “keeping the lights on” is the challenge.
● McLennan says the project is not being hoisted onto Minnkota customers. He said if Project Tundra were to substantially impact electric rates, Minnkota would not proceed with the project.
“I want to be careful when I say it’s not going to impact our members,” he clarified. “What we’re saying is that we’re not taking a billion dollars and putting it on the backs of our members.”
● And in energy-rich North Dakota, the economy is ever-reliant on fuel sources like coal and oil.
The nation, and North Dakota, must work to reduce its carbon output, but it’s unrealistic to believe it will happen due to a sudden shift from carbon-based fuels.
Rather, the change must come in conjunction with development of green alternatives – which aren’t yet ready to shoulder the entire load – and carbon-capture technology. That would help ease carbon pressure on the planet, continue to provide reliable energy sources for the nation and keep countless people working in the energy industry.
Mining coal isn’t necessarily the issue; releasing carbon into the atmosphere is. If we can sequester carbon while keeping ourselves warm, our houses lit and our industries running, we’re all for it.
Project Tundra is part of that equation.