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Coal Creek permit transfers come before North Dakota regulators

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Coal Creek Station south of Underwood on Oct. 13, 2020.

The pending sale of Coal Creek Station has made its way to North Dakota regulators, who need to sign off on several permits so that the coal-fired power plant's incoming owners can operate it.

Affiliates of Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp. seek to purchase from Great River Energy the plant and the transmission line connected to it. The companies have applied for permit transfers from the North Dakota Public Service Commission related to the transmission line and a water pipeline.

The PSC first issued those permits in the 1970s to GRE's predecessors. Coal Creek began operating in 1979.

The commission is slated to hold an informal hearing Aug. 18 to discuss the matter, particularly with Rainbow. Commissioner Randy Christmann said he requested the meeting.

"This company is new to working with us," he told reporters at this week's PSC meeting. "I don't think they really have a background dealing with reclamation or siting in North Dakota, and I just thought it was important that we have a dialogue with them and just make sure we're all on the same page before things move along too far."

Rainbow is based in Bismarck and manages power and natural gas assets for clients within the utility sector.

The commission does not have a formal hearing scheduled regarding the permit transfer, during which time members of the public could speak. It is accepting written comments on the transfer through Aug. 23 and is taking any requests for a formal hearing through that date.

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality has said various permits it has issued for Coal Creek will need to transfer to Rainbow as well. The sale is also expected to come up before regulators in Minnesota, where the transmission line connected to Coal Creek ends. Federal regulators also must approve.

GRE's member cooperatives signed off on the sale last month. Terms have not been disclosed publicly, but the deal is expected to close later this year.

GRE previously sought to shut down the coal plant, which is the largest of its kind in North Dakota. The plant has run at a loss for several years. Rainbow emerged as a potential buyer for the plant and the power line, announcing earlier this summer its plans to purchase both.

Rainbow plans to install a $1.5 billion system at the plant to capture its carbon emissions and bury them underground, taking advantage of a federal tax credit for the emerging technology.

The company also plans for more renewable power near the plant that could connect to the power line, as a carbon capture system would eat up about one-third of the electricity Coal Creek produces and thus free up space on the line for electricity from other sources.

Coal Creek is in McLean County west of U.S. Highway 83 between Washburn and Underwood.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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