Bismarck Tribune: Coal industry smart to add to research

Posted October 19, 2016

The coal industry doesn’t want to be left behind as the nation explores its energy options. Companies have been funding research for some time and North Dakota plants have adopted the latest technologies.

In a Sunday story by reporter Jessica Holdman, Lignite Energy Council President Jason Bohrer noted the nation has started to move toward a carbon-free future. The industry plans to embrace, not fight, the change. It wants to increase research and down the road would like funding from the state.

The industry approach makes sense. If coal is to remain part of the nation’s energy policy than some changes will be necessary. How quickly North Dakota will be in a position to provide funding is unknown. The state’s in transition as oil development slows and revenues decline. The upcoming legislative session will focus on balancing the budget and that might require more cuts.

So the coal industry knows research funding will have to come later. That doesn’t mean the industry can’t outline its goals to legislators in hopes of setting the stage for future funding.

Project Tundra, an effort to retrofit Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station near Center with scrubbers to capture carbon emitted by the plant, is being conducted by ALLETE Inc. and Minnkota Power Cooperative. Carbon-capture technologies have been deployed commercially on smaller scales, but this is a bigger challenge. The state could get involved in the project. The coal industry’s proposed new energy investment program would have $250 million to $300 million funded for 10 years. The industry would like to make the fund permanent through taxes on coal extraction.

That’s a large investment by the state. There also are other major projects awaiting state funding, so it’s good legislators will have at least one session to digest industry’s proposals. It will be beneficial to the state as the industry takes carbon-free steps. Whether the state can provide as much assistance as the industry would like remains to be seen.

There’s no doubt the opportunity exists for technological advancements. It’s also possible that new technology that’s developed could be sold, bringing a return on the investment. It will be interesting to see how the state and coal industry can work together.