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North Dakota agencies busy with Coal Creek permits

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North Dakota’s largest coal-fired power plant, Coal Creek Station near Underwood.

The pending sale of Coal Creek Station has regulators from several North Dakota agencies busy processing requests to transfer permits to the coal-fired power plant’s incoming owners.

The permits are for a variety of things, including landfills associated with the plant and Missouri River water used by the McLean County facility.

Regulators in Minnesota last week opted to delay a decision on a permit transfer for the plant’s power line, which runs from North Dakota to a site near Minneapolis. They requested more information on topics such as what energy sources would send electricity across the line under its new ownership.

The transfer process has gone more smoothly in North Dakota for Bismarck-based Rainbow Energy Marketing Corp., whose affiliates are buying the plant and line from Minnesota-based Great River Energy. North Dakota's Public Service Commission earlier this month approved the transfer of permits associated with the power line and a water pipeline. Federal approval is also needed.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has scheduled an informational session and hearing next month regarding permits for landfills at Coal Creek. Rainbow plans to assume ownership of an active special waste landfill and another disposal facility, while GRE would continue to own two closed landfills. 

A public notice about the hearing states that “no operational changes are being proposed” to any of those facilities.

The public information session is slated for 6 p.m. on Oct. 5 in the agency’s Environmental Training Center, 2639 E. Main Ave. in Bismarck. The hearing will follow at 6:30 p.m. It will also be accessible by phone, and the information will be posted to Environmental Quality’s website by the end of the month.

The department has also opened a window for the public to submit written comments through Oct. 15 by emailing solidwaste@nd.gov or writing to Charles R. Hyatt, Director, North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Waste Management, 4201 Normandy St., Bismarck, ND 58503-1324.

Environmental Quality will also be involved in several other permit transfers, including an operating permit issued to comply with the federal Clean Air Act and another permit related to the Clean Water Act. Both permit transfers will be administrative in nature and not require hearings, according to department officials.

An issue surrounding Coal Creek will also come up in the state’s regional haze plan it intends to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency next year. Environmental Quality is looking to grant a permit for equipment at the power plant to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, in effect resolving an ongoing issue with the EPA.

Nitrogen oxides, often referred to as “NOx,”  react with other chemicals in the air to form particulate matter and ozone, which can cause respiratory problems, according to the EPA.

“Ultimately, the permit will impose lower NOx limits for the two boilers out there,” state Environmental Engineer David Stroh said. “The lower NOx limits are the result of them modifying their burners to combust more efficiently and not produce as much NOx.”

The haze plan will undergo a public comment and hearing process.

The new Department of Water Resources formed by the 2021 Legislature will also be tasked with transferring a permit allowing Coal Creek to use water from the Missouri River in its operations. The transfer is an administrative process that would finish upon the official sale of the power plant, department spokesperson Jessie Wald said.

The deal between Rainbow and GRE is expected to close later this year.

GRE announced in 2020 that it planned to close the plant next year unless it could find a buyer. The plant has run at a loss for several years.

Rainbow eventually emerged as a potential buyer, forming Rainbow Energy Center to operate the plant and Nexus Line to run the transmission line.

Rainbow plans to install a $1.5 billion system to capture the plant’s carbon emissions and bury them underground. The company has also said it intends to hook up new renewable generation to the transmission line.

Coal Creek, located between Washburn and Underwood, is North Dakota’s largest coal-fired power plant. It has operated since 1979.

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

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