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Tribune editorial: Moratorium won’t resolve coal issues

Tribune editorial: Moratorium won’t resolve coal issues

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The Mercer County Commission should lift its moratorium on wind-related projects. The Tribune editorial board doesn’t believe delaying wind farms will pump life into the coal industry.

North Dakota has prided itself on supporting “all of the above” when it comes to energy resources. The belief has been that oil, gas, coal, wind and other resources can be successful in the state at the same time. It’s not the case of choosing one or two over the others.

It’s been a difficult time for coal, with the closing of the Stanton Station and two more coal plants expected to close in the near future. Coal Creek Station, the largest coal plant in the state, hasn’t been able to dig itself out of a financial hole. So far, no company has shown interest in taking over Coal Creek.

The increase in cheap natural gas and renewable power has taken a toll on coal. The coal industry nationwide has been struggling. In North Dakota, the McLean County Commission also has taken action targeting wind farms. 

Mercer County commissioners approved their moratorium in May, and unless they reverse themselves it will stay in place until May 2022.

It directly impacts the proposed Garrison Butte wind farm, which would cover more than 22,000 acres. It would have a 152-megawatt capacity.

The moratorium has divided the community in Mercer County. Those who rely on coal for their livelihoods want to do everything possible to protect the industry. For others, the wind farm holds the promise of a steady income and tax revenue for the county.

The coal industry certainly has been good to Mercer County and the region. For a time, the region had the highest level of income in the state. Residents don’t like to see a good lifestyle threatened.

The Tribune doesn’t believe wind poses the major threat to the coal industry, though it’s in the mix of things driving change. The region can’t expect coal to remain the economic powerhouse it’s been for the past 40 years.

We are seeing the same struggles in the oil industry with the recent Russia-OPEC conflict and the pandemic. In the last decade we have seen oil prices rise, fall, rebound and plunge. The situation in North Dakota has been further clouded by a judge's recent order to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline.

While coal and oil have greatly benefited the state, it’s time to pursue alternative ways to generate revenue. We don’t believe the Mercer County moratorium will solve the problem, and the commission should lift it. At the same time, any wind project should be thoroughly vetted before being approved or rejected.

Since Donald Trump was elected president, coal production has declined 21.6%. If coal can’t rebound under one of most coal-friendly presidents in history, then it can’t rebound.

These are challenging times for North Dakota, and it needs to reinvent itself so it’s not dependent on the energy sector. That’s no easy task.

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