The United States is fortunate to hold the largest reserves of coal in the world. Moreover, coal’s unique properties and technological advances enable today’s electric utilities to use less coal, while improving efficiencies at power plants.
Lignite is a type of coal that is extremely abundant in North Dakota and can also be found in other regions of the country including the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Other types of coal used in the production of electricity include subbituminous and bituminous coal. Montana, for instance, has all three types of coal. Lignite coal is often found near the surface, making it more accessible and safer to mine.
Abundance & Affordability
Lignite coal is an abundant, affordable, secure energy source that is critical to our region’s businesses, homes and manufacturing sectors. The world’s second-largest reserves of lignite are located in North Dakota. According to the Energy Information Agency, coal is the energy source for about 46 percent of the electricity used in Minnesota and 79 percent of the electricity used in North Dakota.
Families and Businesses Pay Less
In regions where coal is a large part of the energy mix, families and businesses pay less for their electricity, which leaves more money in the bank for other needs. Nationwide, electricity prices are an average of 11 percent lower in states that generate more than half of their electricity from coal than in states using other energy sources.
Electricity from coal offers a mutually beneficial partnership for both Minnesota and North Dakota.
Its benefits include:
- Energy security;
- Lower electric bills;
- Lower operational costs for farmers, giving them a competitive advantage;
- More capital for businesses and manufacturers to hire new workers; and
- Minnesota businesses enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing their electricity source is stable, reliable and affordable.
- Coal-based electricity also acts as a an excellent base load energy supply that can be easily and economically supplemented by wind, solar, and other renewables for over 1 million Minnesota homes. (See use here)
North Dakota possesses more than one billion short tons in recoverable reserves at its coal-producing mines. This secure source of domestic energy allows our region to be self-sufficient, rather than reliant on foreign sources of energy. According to the Energy Information Agency, Minnesota utilities consumed more than 13 million short tons of coal in 2012, and North Dakota consumed more than 22 million.
Lignite coal is a dependable energy source utilized in a variety of ways:
- Nearly 80 percent of North Dakota’s mined lignite coal is converted to electricity to serve more than two million regional customers;
- About 13 percent is used to make synthetic natural gas delivered to 400,000 homes and businesses throughout the eastern U.S.; and
- Seven percent is used to produce fertilizer products.
Thousands of jobs come from the Lignite Coal Industry
The coal industry is a reliable source of high-paying jobs. In North Dakota alone, the lignite coal industry employs 4,000 people directly and 13,000 indirectly, making it a primary factor in our strong regional economy. The estimated annual economic impact of lignite coal mining in the state is $3.5 billion, and the industry generates $100 million annually in state taxes.
A diverse set of energy means a healthy economy
Not long ago, Minnesota’s unemployment rate topped 10 percent. Today, with a diverse energy portfolio and a stable supply of low cost electricity, that rate is a low 4.6 percent. Affordable energy has been critical to supporting Minnesota’s manufacturing sector and creating high-paying jobs.
More regulations spell economic consequences
Additional regulations would increase energy costs for regional businesses, putting them at a competitive disadvantage. This would result in layoffs, higher unemployment, increased consumer costs and depressed economic activity.
A Safe Record
Worker safety surrounding coal mining is of the utmost importance. The majority of coal produced in this region is done through surface mining — resulting in significantly fewer injuries. The most recent data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration notes the total injury rate for mining as a whole has fallen considerably while construction represents the most dangerous workplace injuries according to OSHA.
To view an expanded history of the reductions in injuries surrounding mining, visit the Department of Labor.
The Coalition for a Secure Energy Future strongly supports efforts to promote the highest available environmental standards possible. The coal industry has invested more than $2 billion in cleaner, more efficient plants.
Today, while keeping rates low, coal generates cleaner electricity than ever before.
- Emissions from coal-based energy production in the United States have decreased by more than 80 percent over the past 40 years, while coal use has increased by 140 percent.
- Emissions from Minnesota electric utilities have decreased over the last 20 years due to industry efforts and existing controls under the Clean Air Act. During that same time, Minnesota’s air quality has improved significantly.
- The Minnesota Mercury Emission Reduction Act of 2006 is already reducing the total maximum daily load of mercury emissions from the state’s coal power plants by the year 2014.
- Even as North Dakota produces nearly 80 percent of its electricity from coal, it is one of only seven states nationwide that meets all of the federal ambient air quality standards.
The Lignite Coal Industry takes pride in reclamation of land
Reclaiming land after mining is a critical component of being environmentally responsible. Reclamation is a highly regulated, carefully planned and managed process that takes years to successfully complete. Mining companies must prove the reclaimed land performs as well or better than before it was mined.
On average, regional mining companies spend $30,000 to reclaim one acre of land; however, costs can run as high as $60,000 an acre. These companies have reclaimed more than 27,000 acres of mined land – about 42 square miles – in North Dakota alone since 1970.